Monday, June 8, 2009

It's Official

As expected, my 56-vote loss has been certified. Congratulations Janeen!

This doesn't quite mean the end for this school board race though-- as mentioned in the last post, there is a sudden additional vacancy on the board (to be filled by appointment), and I have applied. I'll update this blog when the final decision is announced.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Surprising Postscript

One of the current board members who was not up for reelection this year suddenly announced her resignation, to take a salaried job with the district: This means that the remaining board members get to appoint a new member of their choice to the board. I think they are planning to act quickly, as they gave less than 2 weeks between announcement of the vacancy & the application deadline. (I've heard various cynical theories about the timing and intent of this move, but would prefer not to dwell on negatives at the moment.)

I have applied to be her replacement. Coming so soon after an election, I think it's common sense that the board should listen to the voters when choosing their new member: in addition to losing my seat by only a tiny margin, I have significantly more votes than any of the other non-elected candidates, and in fact more votes than the winner of one of the other seats. So I think I would be the logical choice.

I'll update the blog if there are any further developments.

Unofficial Final Total: Congratulations Janeen

It's looking clearer that I have lost. I'll wait until the numbers are certified (expected 6/8) to call Janeen and formally concede, but unless the elections office suddenly discovers a major issue, this is what they currently call their "unofficial final" count:

Hillsboro School Dist 1J Director - Pos 1 Vote for 1
Erik Seligman . . . . . . . . . 3,537 38.13
Janeen A Sollman . . . . . . . . 3,593 38.74
Nina E Olson Carlson. . . . . . . 2,102 22.66
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 43 .46

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Not Dead Yet!

Currently posted results so far: (from

Hillsboro School Dist 1J Director - Pos 1 Vote for 1
Erik Seligman . . . . . . . . . 3,402 38.23
Janeen A Sollman . . . . . . . . 3,458 38.86
Nina E Olson Carlson. . . . . . . 2,005 22.53
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . 34 .38

A bit disappointing, especially given my 100+-vote lead before I went to bed last night. Now I know how Al Gore felt in 2000.

I received a frantic call this morning from one of the local political gurus advising me not to concede yet. (Sorry Janeen!) Apparently there are always some district ballots from outlying areas that end up in the wrong office, and machine-rejected ballots left to be counted by hand, numbering in total much larger than the 56-vote gap in the race. Counting will continue at least thru tomorrow, and possibly Friday too.

So, though it doesn't look good for me, it's not quite over...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Idea #8: Management Diet

Continuing to walk around & talk to neighbors, I've heard several comments on the number of administrative employees being excessive. Now I have to admit, this is something I would need to examine more closely in order to get the hard data. But I have read many general reports of public school districts having much greater ratios of nonteaching to teaching employees than private schools, and I would be surprised to find that Hillsboro is an exception.

This is not a problem unique to schools: many companies also hired too many managers in relation to individual contributors during past good times. During the recent economic difficulties, the best companies have been re-examining this ratio, and reducing unnecessary layers of middle management or increasing the number of contributors under each manager. This is especially effective when the individual contributors are educated professionals, who can largely due their day-to-day work independently & without much direct supervision.

We should carefully examine the administration and other nonteaching employees, and benchmark in relation to other school districts and private schools. I bet we will find opportunities there for cuts that will not directly impact the teaching staff.

A Child's Right To Transfer

One important policy that I think should apply to all school boards is the following:
  • If a parent believes their child's needs are not being met by the current school, they should have an absolute right to transfer their child to another school.

But of course, in Hillsboro, the board has the power to deny any transfer. Greg Clark, candidate for Position 3, posted recently (at about his struggles to get his daughter into a school in a neighboring district. The neighboring district had the space and had no problem accepting her-- but the Hillsboro school board did not want to let her go, no doubt afraid to let go of the small bundle of money that would travel with her. That is an attitude that needs to change.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Talented And Gifted ('TAG') Children

One theme that seems to have come up quite often as I chat with neighbors is the issue of handling exceptionally intelligent, or 'TAG', children. There is a common perception that the Hillsboro school district is willing to spend lavishly on special-needs students, but believes talented students are going to do fine anyway, so should be left on their own.

But we all know what happens when a student is far above the level of their peers, and feels like their time in school is being wasted. At best it leads to boredom and disconnection from their own education, and at worst can lead to behavioral problems as the child desperately lashes out for some kind of mental stimulation.

I think we need to start with a fundamental principle: Every student whose needs are not being served by their current school is equally worthy of attention. This applies whether they are TAG, special-needs, or have other specific issues.

Once we accept this principle, I think we can look at several directions for addressing the needs of these students.
  1. Teacher Empowerment: We need to make sure teachers have the freedom to use unorthodox approaches when needed, as I have been stressing in the "Freedom to Innovate" part of my platform. As an example, I recall my experience in 5th grade, when I was getting 100% on every spelling test the teacher could throw at me. Finally she took me aside and said, "I think we both agree that I'm wasting your time with these exercises. Want to try a real challenge?" She took out her New York Times, and opened it to the crossword page. We came to an agreement that whenever the class is working on spelling exercises, my assignment was to work on the New York Times crossword puzzle, and solve 10 words per week. Not every student is as independent as I was, but for me, that was a great solution. And definitely a real challenge. I'm sure that idea wasn't in any policy manual, and that teacher would have been in trouble if some administrator came and judged my experience against officially approved teaching methods.
  2. Magnet Schools And Programs : If there is not enough demand at any individual school for a separate TAG class, especially at lower grade levels or in specific subject areas, why not create a magnet program? It can be a whole separate magnet school, or merely a program offered in a small subset of classrooms in an existing school; the key point is that students from all parts of the district can easily transfer there if eligible. Students who can demonstrate a certain level of achievement, through tests or current grades, should be eligible to transfer to the school where the magnet program is offered. Because the classes focus on high-achieving students, they can learn more advanced topics and at a faster pace, to keep these students engaged.
  3. Charter Schools: At some point, we have to face the fact that some students learn best with models simply not found in the default public schools, and will find that their current school just isn't working for them. Students need other options, and simply transferring to another nearly-identical neighborhood school in another neighborhood doesn't really solve anything. We should foster and encourage charter schools, as you have seen me mention in previous blog posts, offering real and distinct choices to our students. This way, children not currently being served have as many options as possible.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hillsboro Argus and Lawn Signs

I was pleasantly surprised to pick up yesterday's Hillsboro Argus ( , and see a big photo of myself on the front cover. Although 12 candidates participated in the debate, they chose my photo to illustrate the story. Probably a matter of luck, but it can't hurt my campaign. The text was very evenhanded, not favoring any particular candidate, and included a good quote from me on applying Intel principles to managing the school system. Their editorial page had a nice story calling all the candidates "heroes" for running, but as far as I can tell they have not chosen any particular ones to endorse.

I also finally have my lawn signs ready. If you are a supporter with a home in the Hillsboro school district, please email me ( if you would like to display a sign. Thanks for all your support!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Teaching To The Test

Often when I bring up the issue of measurable results, people respond with the dread specter of "teaching to the test". This is the idea that, in order to maximize the scores on standardized tests, teachers will start spending all their time having students memorize multiple-choice answers instead of truly understanding the material. Let me explain why I do not believe this should be as important a concern as some make it out to be.

  1. Standardized tests are the only real way to compare different classes and schools. If you have seen a better, objective measurement, please point it out to me. But it is very difficult to compare students from different environments, classes, etc. A standardized test is one of the few measurement instruments that really is the same regardless of who is administering it or where it is administered. Even those who criticize standardized tests ultimately worry if their kids score low, and breathe a sigh of relief when their kids do well. We instinctively know that if you want to find out how much somebody knows about something, you do it by asking a bunch of questions on the topic.
  2. What's wrong with wanting students to know some facts? An important part of learning is to know the basic facts. While items testable on multiple-choice tests do not cover all aspects of knowledge, they cover a minimal basis that students need in order to achieve higher-level thinking. I've rarely been impressed by the "higher" mathematical reasoning of a smart student who had never heard of the Pythagorean Theorem.
  3. Parents can help judge elements of learning that cannot be measured by a test. This is one reason why I consider an element of parental choice so crucial in a school system. The parts of learning that cannot be judged by standardized tests need to be judged by the parents, in consulatation with the students' teachers. And if they believe their child is not effectively learning, they need to be able to easily move them to a different class, method, or learning environment.
  4. "Teaching to the test" is unlikely to result in exceptional test scores anyway. How do we best learn things? Is it by being presented a bag of disconnected, multiple-choice facts and told to memorize them? Or is it by fitting the facts into a coherent narrative? Think about, for example, the Civil War. A flood of images come to mind from when I studied this: the controversies over abolitionism, the failed presidencies of Pierce and Buchanan, Lincoln's fateful decisions to hold the Union together, etc. With this vision of the whole in my head, I think I will do much better on a standardized test than somebody simply given dull rote drilling on several thousand specific questions, unless they are an exceptionally talented memorizer. So, why would a teacher choose to "teach to the test" when there are more enagaging and effective teaching methods available?
  5. When teaching to the test is done, it is often an act of desperation or protest. I have heard of cases where the class lessons are thrown out to just practice tests over and over. But I largely view this as an act of either desperation, where teachers in the worst-performing schools have not been given the tools to succeed and want to show they are doing something, or of protest, where they do it so they can say "see what you're making me do" as a criticism of the tests. What I haven't heard much about is quality schools where the students achieve high test scores solely due to their strategy of teaching to the test.

I'd love to hear readers' thoughts on these issues as well.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Idea #7: More Charter Schools

This is one idea I've forgotten to include simply because it was so obvious. Previously I discussed online charter schools, which have especially low costs due to their unique education model. But what about "regular" charter schools? If you're not familiar with the concept, you can read lots of details at But basically, a charter school is an independently-run school (like a private school) that, based on certain agreements with the board, becomes part of the public school system, enabling parents who could not otherwise afford private schools to take advantage of alternative educational models. And since attendance at charter schools is 100% by free choice, a charter school that does not offer quality education will automatically be shut down as the students and parents "vote with their feet", unlike traditional public schools. A robust system of charter schools in Hillsboro would provide real choices for families not currently being served by the neighborhood schools.

So, charter schools may be nice, but why would they save money? As you may have heard, a district is only required to give charter schools 80% of its per-student funding for each student that attends. But it's actually even less than that: if you look closely at the budget, various parts of it are in special buckets that "don't really count" as per-student spending, by some judgements. (Construction bond repayment, etc.) So if you actually look at the total district expenditure divided by the total number of students, charter schools receive significantly less than 80% of what the district spends per-student. This means that the more students in charter schools, the more the district saves. Because they only gain money to the extent that voluntary customers choose their schools, charter schools have much greater incentive than traditional public schools to find efficiencies and increase quality at lower cost.

Of course, the fewer students in the traditional non-charter schools would mean that there might be some teacher layoffs-- but the loss of demand for teachers in public schools would be balanced by increased demand for teachers in the charter schools, so for each teaching job lost, one would likely be created. Experienced teachers should easily remain employed, and the loss of students to charter schools might well be the wake-up call the current schools need to improve their own efficiency and quality.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another Charter School For Hillsboro?

Last night I attended the board hearing on the proposal for a new Knova Learning charter school in Hillsboro. Their proposal can be found here:

I thought they made an excellent presentation, though I was disappointed that they showed up late. The board quizzed them on some issues I consider important (how will you handle English language learners?), and others I would label as rather unimportant (how is it possible to get a quality education from uncertified teachers?). They seemed very skeptical that a charter school could deliver good educational results with lower cost-per-student than the traditional schools. But I think the overall questioning exhibited an emphasis on process orientation rather than results orientation, and missed the main point:

Attendance at the charter school will be entirely voluntary.

So if they fail to deliver, the parents will vote with their feet, and the school will fail. Inherently, a charter school only receives money in proportion to the students it can attract. So if the board is worried that they won't be as successful in their educational model as the current public schools, why not let them try? It is up to the individual parents to learn about the school, and actively make the choice to send their children. The internal details are interesting, but should not be the criteria for allowing or disallowing the chartering of the school.

In my opinion, the main requirements to open a charter school should be:
  1. A basic level of sincerity and competency, showing they have the means, intention, and ability to run a school.
  2. The ability to attract parents willing to try the school.
  3. Transparency of results: an honest system for reporting the same measurable results by which public schools are judged.
In my chats with various neighbors, I have found some who are perfectly happy with our current schools-- and some who are furious at the way their local schools are run. The latter group is eager for additional charter school options, and we need to do all we can to open up more choices for them.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Voters' Pamphet, and Fiscal Responsibility

Washington County has published the voters' pamphlets online:

I see that my opponents have lined up numerous members of the local education establishment to supply endorsements. Well, given the generally mediocre educational ranking of the Hillsboro school district, I think being an outsider candidate should be considered a virtue in this race. It's time for some change on the school board, and real focus on my key points: results orientation, freedom of innovation, and responsible use of technology.

It's interesting to see that both my opponents claim to be in favor of "fiscal responsibility". But read the fine print: Nina Olson-Carlson writes that we should "...advocate for more dependable ways to stably fund our schools", and Janeen Sollman considers it a major selling point that she "stands up for adequate school funding in Salem". While both of these sound like fine sentiments, in practice they are both saying that they believe the solution to our schools' problems is more taxes. I believe that this is not the economy in which to raise taxes, and there are better ways to be fiscally responsible.

As far as I can tell, I'm the only candidate advocating that our school district face the economy in the same way as local businesses: look for places to responsibly cut spending without hurting the quality of education. Such opportunities are abundant, if we allow a bit of out-of-the-box thinking. The various ideas I've mentioned so far in my blog (read the many posts below if you need to catch up) are probably just the tip of the iceberg. I'd love to hear more ideas from you.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Idea #6: Selected Online Classes

Rather than a full Connections Academy, as I suggested in Idea #2, why not start gradually introducing online classes to the district? In other words, offer some classes in online form, and enable students from any district school to enroll in them, for the same types of credits as standard classes. They can attend online from the local school library or their own homes.

Why would this save the district money? Well, the Oregon Connections Academy has shown that online instruction can handle much larger ratios, up to 50-1. This isn't a surprise to me: much of a typical teacher's energy is taken up by classroom management. Without that issue, they are able to concentrate on the teaching itself. So by offering some proportion of its classes in online form, the district can gradually increase capacity without needing to hire additional teachers.

There are further benefits to this idea as well. If an elective class is rarely offered at any individual school due to low demand, it might be possible to offer it district-wide in online form if there is enough collective demand. And similarly, if an upper-level class is lightly attended at each school, perhaps the classes can be consolidated online, freeing up some teaching resources for other purposes. This could help improve the student/teacher ratio in the more popular 'live' classes.

And, there is the additional benefit that some students who may struggle in standard classes are especially suited for this form of education. In particular, online communication has sometimes been found to be very helpful for people with autistic spectrum disorders.

Some Oregon districts have already been taking steps in this area. This is one trend that I believe we should fully embrace, both for the cost savings and the potential educational benefits.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Curse Of The Calculator

I've been having many discussions with neighbors about their concerns for Hillsboro schools. One interesting theme that came up was the problem of over-reliance on calculators when teaching arithmetic.

While there is certainly a place for calculators in some situations, I think it is vital that students first learn how to do old-fashioned calculations with a pencil and paper. This is often derided as "drill and kill", but is what gives people a basic intuition of how to deal with numbers. Sure, technically it's the same if you remember 2+3=5 from repeating a lot of hand calculations, or if you type 2 and 3 into a magical black box and get 5-- but the thought process is a lot different. When you do it by hand, you can't help but notice patterns and gain an inherent feel for the numbers. If all you do is mechanically type them in and always get a guaranteed answer, you may lose even your basic impulses of curiosity about what's happening. In one of my podcasts, I illustrated this issue with a story about a run-in I had with an obviously machine-dependent teenager:

Recently I was at a local fast food restaurant, and I saw a burger that looked good for $1.98. I ordered two of the burgers, plus a soda which was 99 cents, and the cashier told me the total was 6.93. I looked at her, confused, and tried to reason with her. "You see that burger I ordered is about 2 dollars? And I got two of them, plus a one dollar soda. Shouldn't the total be around 5 dollars?" She was a bit annoyed. "So, you're not going to pay the amount displayed on the register?" I valiantly tried one more time to reason with her."Look, 2 + 2 + 1 equals 5. So the total should be close to 5 dollars. Something is wrong here." She gave up and went back to get the manager. I could overhear her speaking to him, though she didn't realize it. "An irate customer up front is refusing to pay for his meal." Needless to say, after the manager finally sorted things out, it turned out she had rung me up for an extra burger.

I'm glad to see that a backlash is developing against the emphasis on calculators these days, both in neighborhood chats and online. While I love technology, it has its proper time and place, and we cannot allow a dependence on cool gizmos to replace our kids' basic skills.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Idea #5: Sensible Architecture

This point was brought up by a neighbor chatting about the campaign, and also makes a lot of sense to me.

If you look around at the school buildings in Hillsboro, you will likely be impressed with many of them. There are unique designs and architectural touches to each one, and some are quite beautiful. But why has our school district devoted so many resources to its buildings?

Compare to how Intel, one of the most successful and profitable businesses in Oregon, designs its facilities. If you drive by the buildings, you will be rather unimpressed-- they all look like large boxes. On the inside, you will find that many of them seem like exact copies of each other. This isn't by coincidence: the company follows a "copy exactly" methodology, where they make minimal variations to a standard design as they build new facilities.

I see no reason why the school district should be any different. Settle on a standard, simple, modular design and do not waste time or resources changing it, except to the degree absolutely necessary based on local land contours, regulations, or similar issues. Resources that should be going to education should not be spent on making buildings aesthetically pleasing.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Idea #4: Free The Service Districts

Hopefully, most of you read the fine print (or the date) on my proposal from yesterday ( Now let's get back to some real ideas for improving the cost-effectiveness of our education system. Here's one I heard in a random chat that sounds quite sensible to me.

In Oregon, many supplemental services for schools such as speech therapy, special ed, etc., are provided by ESDs, or Education Service Districts. These districts are each tied to a specific set of school districts, with a monopoly on services for their selected schools, and centrally funded. As we all know with monopolies, this means they have little incentive to cut costs or improve their service.

Why not give the money to the school districts, rather than the ESDs? We could then allow each school district to shop around, and have a choice of ESDs to purchase services from. The healthy competition would increase the business for the more efficient service providers, and force the others to examine their operating procedures to catch up.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Another Cost-Saving & Education-Improving Idea

How many times have we seen this situation in a classroom: the teacher is in the middle of a brilliant lesson, the students are all enraptured, education is flowering in the truest sense, and suddenly it is all ruined. A hand is raised in the middle of the room, begging, "Can I have a bathroom pass?"

Attempts to solve this problem by limiting availability of these passes, or requiring good behavior from students, simply fail to address the root. Let me ask the obvious question: Why are there bathrooms in our schools at all? Every bathroom in the Hillsboro school system should have all its toilets and sinks removed, and the rooms should be re-purposed as classrooms. Think about the benefits:
  • Schools will gain additional classrooms in what is now wasted space, increasing capacity.
  • Custodial costs will go down, as janitors have significantly fewer cleaning tasks.
  • Students will learn the valuable techniques of self-control.

It's about time we leave the self-indulgent school designs of the 20th century behind, and fully utilize our schools' spaces for their intended purpose, education.

(Non-April-Fools ideas will resume tomorrow...)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Freedom And Results

Reading my entry from a few days ago (on alternatives to textbooks), I realized I should probably clarify my statements about Freedom to Innovate and Measurable Results, in light of my suggestion that teachers be allowed to choose non-board-approved textbook substitutes on the Internet.

I think all of us have memories of our favorite teachers. In many cases, these are the teachers who constantly surprised us-- who didn't stick to the usual lesson plans, and went beyond the textbook in conveying their love for their subject. Perhaps they introduced bizarre role-playing exercises, took the class on surprising field trips, or had a knack for creating cool lab explosions. That is why I believe the freedom to innovate is so important: while every teacher should receive advice from their peers and superiors, they must also have the ability to independently teach their classes, utilitizing their own creativity to bring their subjects to life.

But with this level of freedom we must also recognize that the teachers must be held accountable for their students' learning in the end. We must consistently test that the classes really have mastered their expected body of knowledge, using tests and other measurements that can be objectively compared across classes and schools. If a teacher is wildly creative and entertaining, but doesn't succeed in teaching, that's not a good fit for our school system. On the other hand, if a teacher uses unconventional methods and materials but delivers the results in the end, we should do all we can to reward and encourage them to continue.

In short, what I'm discussing here is the difference between process orientation and results orientation. (Those of you who work with me may recognize the influence of "Intel Values" here.) "Process orientation" means thousands of pages of policy manuals and dictates from every level of authority, controlling how classroom time is spent. "Results orientation" means a much greater degree of freedom for teachers and schools, as long as they deliver the results in the end. While there is a level of security in process orientation ("I did what they said, so they have no right to complain"), the results are really what matter. And I think you will find that in general, most educated professionals, including teachers, are much happier in a dynamic, results-oriented environment.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Personality Type

My wife pointed out an amusing site to me,, that analyzed your personality type based on your blog. It decided that I am a 'Mechanic':

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts. The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life.

Sounds like a pretty good recommendation for a school board candidate. :-)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Idea #3: Electronic Textbooks

I read an article on CNET news yesterday, about the new Asus EEE PCs expected to retail for $180. And we've all heard about the push for $100 educational PCs. While these bottom-of-the-line PCs won't play the latest fancy games or dazzle you with 3-D effects, they are fine for displaying web pages and PDF files. When textbooks typically cost in the $100 price range, could we save some money by equipping each student with a cheap loaner computer, and using texts in electronic form?

One obvious way to do this would be to continue using the texts we have now, but purchase them in PDF format. We need to be careful here though-- if textbooks can be reused, but the PDFs are only sold per-student, this method might cost rather than saving money. But why should we be attached to current 'official' textbooks? It's no secret that the past few decades have represented a drive towards blandness, to avoid offending various interest groups.

Why not allow teachers to choose to use texts from Wikibooks (, a site with collaborative development of free texts, or Project Gutenberg (, which contains free online versions of classic works whose copyright has expired? And these are just scratching the surface of the many online resources available; some quick web searching will probably find a nice e-text on your favorite subject. I bet very few teachers or students would be found who are enthusiastic supporters of their official textbooks, and many would be eager to teach or learn based on these kinds of resources.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Idea #2: Online Education

Here's another idea from Jeff Kropf's blog ( that I really like. This is a great example of using technology to provide a high-quality education at reduced cost:

First, create an online education program such as the one I am involved with, Oregon Connections Academy, which has 2600 students from all over Oregon receiving a quality public education. We educate children for about half of what a traditional bricks and mortar public school does. We have certified teachers who are paid local union scale, PERS and health insurance. Our students test higher in virtually every area of study compared to the statewide average, our parents satisfaction survey for the third year (we are only 4 years old) remains in the 90 percentile and most of all, the kids enrolled in our program love it. It also can help struggling districts retain students they might otherwise lose as they are meeting the education needs of the student.

Next time we need to increase capacity, why not create a local Connections Academy that any Hillsboro student would be eligible to attend instead of their local school? A Hillsboro-based online education program, focused on our district, would have some additional advantages. In addition to the proven benefits and lower costs of online education, the online students could still participate in extracurricular and social activities at their local school, gaining some of the socialization benefits that some worry about in online education.

Having taught in a college-level online program with the University of Phoenix, I can personally attest to the fact that such programs can be just as rigorous and teach just as well as a classroom environment. In fact, online communication may help some of the more shy students (or students with disabilities like autism-spectrum disorders) interact more with their teachers than they would in face-to-face classrooms.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Idea #1: Four Longer Days

As promised, here's the first idea for saving money without compromising education: schedule a 4-day school week, with longer class periods so the amount of instruction does not change. Plenty of people do this in industry; my wife has arranged a '4/40' schedule so she can spend more time with our 2-year old daughter. I heard this idea in the school context from Jeff Kropf's blog (, which I will quote here:

...move to a true four day school week as some 40 Oregon school districts have done and more are considering as a cost efficiency measure. If implemented properly it saves money, makes everyone happier and gets better results. You can actually save substantive amounts of money by not holding any activities in the school district one day a week.... Schools save money by not turning on the lights, heating the building, paying for janitors and cafeteria workers or transporting students... Some teachers say that longer class periods allow students to finish projects uninterupted, producing better results. A longer school day also keeps bored kids working and helps diminish the latch key kids issue.

This sounds like a fine idea to me. I see one monkey wrench in that full-time working parents may depend on the fifth day of child care. But if that turns out to be an issue, we can just implement this in middle and high schools, where all students are old enough to be legally allowed to stay at home if needed. And of course nothing prevents community volunteering, intramural sports, or other volunteer-run recreational activities for the kids on Fridays.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Good And Bad Ways To Save Money

Funding shorfalls seem to be a constant issue with our schools: we always want more money than we have. That's not surprising, as that's a general condition of human existence. But it's important to constantly ask ourselves the basic question: are we spending all our money wisely? Are there opportunities to better target our spending, in ways that will get us more education for less money? We should be asking this question constantly, in good financial times and bad.

When the budget seems to be less than what we want, there is a reflexive impulse towards across-the-board cuts. By across-the-board I mean a cut that affects virtually all programs equally: shortening the school year, or reducing all salaries by a set percentage. An across-the-board cut is convenient for a bureaucracy, as it impacts all political consituencies equally, and thus never requires you to worry about being accused of playing favorites. And if you depend on political processes to allocate funding, an across-the-board cut is a shrewd power stratagem, as it will cause voices of complaint from many directions, demonstrating your "need" for more money.

But an across-the-board cut is almost never the best option. If your business is losing money, you need to closely examine all aspects, look for efficiencies, and find the best places to reduce spending while maintaining your focus on results. There may be opportunities to better leverage technology or more carefully manage our purchasing of supplemental services, to give a better education without any visible cuts. But in addition, hard decisions need to be made on which programs are truly essential, which are optional, and which ones can be compromised upon or replaced with optional community-volunteer-run extracurriculars. Is it really the case that AP Physics classes are no more or less important than Introductory Jewelry Making? I'm sure I'll be ripped apart by art advocates for asking the question... but truly, in your heart, what do you really think? What is the answer that will have the most impact on our children's success in the 21st century?

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be discussing various ideas for getting an equal and better education while spending less money. Feel free to email or comment if you think you have a good reason why some idea I mention can't work in real life. Maybe some were even discussed by the board at some point, but I missed them in the hundreds of pages of PDFs online; please point this out to me if you spot such a situation. But I think it's time to seriously consider out-of-the-box ideas that can have a real positive impact on the amount of education, relative to the money we spend, that our children receive.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Easy Ways To Help My Campaign

So, you read yesterday's post, but are a bit too busy to call & volunteer? No problem-- there are plenty of easy things you can do that can significantly boost my chances of getting elected.

  • Write a letter to the Hillsboro Argus, explaining why you think I should be elected to the school board. You can send snail mail to the Hillsboro Argus, People's Forum, P.O. Box 588, Hillsboro, OR 97123; fax to 503-648-9191; or E-mail to
  • Print out my Press Release or Campaign Flyer and post it somewhere visible. It can be outside your cube at work, in the window of your business, etc.
  • Hand out my Press Release or Campaign Flyer at a meeting of some club or organization you belong to. Even though it may seem like just a few people, every bit of name awareness helps.
  • Tell your friends! Remember that these local races can be decided by a small number of votes, so simple word-of-mouth can help a lot.

As before, if you have general questions or would like to help out, either with one of the above tasks or something else I haven't thought of, please contact me: email, @erikseligman on Twitter, or call me at 503-312-1665.

Thanks for your support!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Call For Volunteers

As I continue recovering from surgery, it's time to think about doing some 'real' campaigning. Like I mentioned before, I'm trying to avoid the ugliness of campaign finance, PACs, etc, and run an old-fashioned neighbor-to-neighbor campaign.

But I can't do it all on my own. If you agree that I can bring new way of thinking to our school board, and would like to see me win, please consider volunteering to help out!

Here are some available volunteer positions:
  • Neighborhood Captains: This just means you are willing to print out some copies of my Press Release and go door-to-door in your neighborhood, helping to tell your neighbors why they should vote for me. Of course I'll be doing lots of door-to-door campaigning as well, but often people react better to a neighbor they know than a stranger at the door.
  • Sign Coordinator: Someone to shop around, figure out the cheapest way to get or make a bunch of lawn signs, and help get them put together. We're trying to keep the total campaign budget under $300 (otherwise we have to legally form a PAC), so the default professional sign services are probably not the best way to go.

If you would like to help out, either with one of the above tasks or something else I haven't thought of, please contact me: email, @erikseligman on Twitter, or call me at 503-312-1665.

Thanks for your help!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lars Larson today

Just a quick post today, reminding everyone that I will be on the Lars Larson show around 12:30. Be sure to tune in (750 KXL in Portland), or listen online at

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Math Mutation

I'm still recovering, so thought I would just post a short blog entry today on my podcast, "Math Mutation", available at Since I have mentioned it in my campaign literature, some of you may be curious about what it is, and how it came about.

As you've probably heard by now, a podcast is a short audio program you can listen to at your computer or MP3 player. I enjoy listening to my iPod in a mode where it is shuffling music and short (<10 minute) podcasts, so I hear songs randomly interspersed with interesting tidbits on a variety of subjects. A few years ago, I realized there were great short-form podcasts on a lot of topics I find interesting: history, science, astronomy, skepticism, humor, and etymology, for example. But somehow the few math podcasts all seemed focused on directly helping students with their schoolwork.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course. But this meant that the fun parts of mathematics, the crazy and wild ideas that had brought the subject to life for me & motivated my desire to major in the subject in college, were just not covered. Some examples: the geometric implications of higher dimensions, the weird consequences of defining infinity, the amazing thought processes of autistic savants, or the strange math-based composition methods of John Cage.

So, I thought I would fill this gap, and create a podcast that highlights all these areas that fascinate me. It won't directly help anyone with tonight's math homework-- but hopefully, it just might make them more interested in getting it done, and really understanding what's going on in some of the infinite worlds of mathematics.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Teaching Certificate & Education Background

I'm recovering from yesterday's surgery; everything went fine, though I'm supposed to take it easy the rest of the week.

Anyway, at Monday's Stand For Children interview there were some questions about the phase "certified teacher" in my profile. Since I expect many of you are curious about what exactly that means, I thought it would be good to clarify here.

Essentially it means just what it sounds like: I have a teaching certificate. It was issued by the State of New Jersey Department of Education in July 1991, certifying me as a Teacher of Mathematics. I earned it by minoring in education as an undergrad, under Princeton's Teacher Preparation Program. ( It involved taking various education-related classes, culminating in a semester of student teaching at a local public high school.

I should clarify that having the certificate does not mean I am currently legally licensed to teach high school: As I do not teach public school in Oregon, I never investigated the local licensing rules. I'm sure there would be various paperwork and possibly additional classes required, if I were to decide to leave Intel to teach in a public school.

However, I have kept up my interest in teaching, as you have probably seen in my background. During my summers in grad school, I taught in the summer programs of some prestigious high schools: Northfield Mt Hermon, Phillips Academy at Andover, and the American School in Switzerland. When I moved to the Hillsboro area, I taught English to immigrants in various local programs from 1995-2000. I also have taught mathematics at University of Phoenix Online, and during the past three months developed and taught an original graduate Computer Science class on "Formal Verification", my specialty at Intel. (Syllabus at And, in addition, I have been hosting and producing a free educational podcast, "Math Mutation", available at, for the past two years.

So, how does all this relate to my school board campaign? I'm sure you'll see that I'm bringing many elements from my 14 years at Intel into the central ideas of my statement: results orientation, freedom to innovate, and responsible use of technology. But it's a common criticism of people coming from the business world that they don't really understand what a teacher's life is like, and that bringing business-inspired ideas to the classroom is naive. I believe that having both a varied education background and real industry experience, I am an ideal candidate to help bring together the best ideas from both worlds, to continue Hillsboro's progress towards a truly world-class school system.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Stand For Children, and Surgery Tomorrow

Just finished an interview with an organization known as Stand For Children. They had a lot of questions, but were suprisingly pleasant. I'm not sure if I have much of a chance at their endorsement (rumor mill says an opponent of mine is a member of theirs), but some of their ideas are not too far off from some of mine-- check out this speech by their CEO:

Anyway, I know it's not good to miss a board meeting at the start of the campaign, but I think I have a good excuse for missing tomorrow's meeting: I'm scheduled for surgery tomorrow. It's a relatively minor procedure, but I will be recovering the rest of the week, so expect a pretty quiet week campaign-wise. I will try to update this blog with random thoughts, but remember that I'll be on drugs most of the week. You'll have to decide whether that enhances or reduces my electablility.

Campaign Finance & Fiscal Responsibility

It has been pointed out to me that there is nothing wrong with raising money for a school board campaign: since Oregon allows a $100 tax credit for political contributions, it doesn't really cost the donors much, and is just "free money".

But where does this free money come from? In effect, it comes from state tax revenues. In this time when schools are reducing days due to lack of state money, is this really the best use for our dollars? I think if we are claiming we wish to be fiscally responsible, we should start by modeling that behavior.

It still seems to me that spending lavishly on a school board campaign is unnecessary and frivolous. In this kind of local election, I'm hoping that we can avoid the ridiculous level of advertising and spending we see in higher-level political campaigns, and use old-fashioned conversation to convince friends and neighbors of our ideas.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"You Can't Measure Teacher Performance"

When I bring up the issue of results orientation, I consistently hear one major objection: "You can't measure teacher performance. There are too many factors from the students' home lives and previous education. Thus standardized test scores cannot be used." Let me explain why I do not think this is a valid objection.

First, those of us who work in non-education industries are very familiar with being evaluated. As an engineer, each year I work on various projects that are almost impossible to compare with other engineers' work. How do they evaluate engineers? Well, my manager has to look at what he knows about the design, comparing it to previous years, and weighing effects of external factors. In addition, he has to figure out how the difficulty of my designs this year compared with those I worked on in previous years, and those other engineers are working on. It's not an exact science, and can sometimes feel unfair-- but in order for our company to continuously improve and ensure success, the evaluation must be done.

How does this relate to teaching? I think to start with, evaluating teaching has a huge advantage over evaluating engineering: a large sample size. If you look at a particular class and track, such as 9th-grade college-prep algebra, each year you typically have several dozen students taking the class, spread across several classrooms. In addition, those students tend to be roughly comparable to a similar group from the same school the year before, and to similar groups in neigboring schools. If we assume that there are a large number of students impacted by an unfair home life, let's throw out the bottom 20%, for example, of scores when looking at test scores. Of those remaining, we can further reduce the influence of outliers by using medians rather than averages, or similar techniques.

In this case, I think looking at the large set of test scores, and comparing to similar groups of students, should be quite informative. It should be supplemented with classroom observations, student opinion surveys, and other available evaluation instruments. While no evaluation system can ever be perfect, I think this would still be likely to be much more accurate than systems used routinely by successful corporations. Overall, if I have a child in the school, my bottom line is how much he or she really learned in the class. If we can measure that to a decent level of approximation, and reward and learn from the most consistently successful teachers, I think that will be a recipe for increased success.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Going Overboard?

I was surprised to see in the Argus yesterday that one of my opponents is throwing a launch party at a local bar this weekend. I also saw a group in today's St. Patrick's parade marching with school board candidate signs.

I guess I can appreciate my opponents' enthusiasm. But I have to wonder, where is all this money coming from for a school board race? Is there a 'political machine' in town trying to buy the seat? It makes me a little nervous.

As for myself, I chose the self-finance / under-$300 box on the paperwork. I won't be throwing any major parties or peppering the town with professionally-produced signs. But I believe I can bring a unique perspective to the school board, and that should be what counts.

My Campaign Statement

As a certified teacher, an engineer in Hillsboro's high-tech industry, a 14-year resident of the Hillsboro area, and father of a two-year-old child, I believe I am uniquely qualified to help steer Hillsboro schools in the right direction in these difficult times.

My qualifications include:
- Experience teaching at the middle and high school levels, including Phillips Academy, Northfield-Mt.Hermon, and the American School in Switzerland;
- College-level teaching at Portland State University and the University of Phoenix Online;
- Experience as chair of an IEEE subcommittee designing international engineering standards;
- B.A. in mathematics, with a minor in education, from Princeton University, and an M.S. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University;
- Experience as a volunteer English teacher to immigrants to the Hillsboro area; and
- Host of a free educational podcast, "Math Mutation", rated 4.5 stars on iTunes.

Our children's education is more essential than ever. I feel the priorities of the Hillsboro school district need to be directed towards these critical goals:

1. Measurable Results. The primary goal of the school system is to teach our children. Tough choices must be based on real data about what is and is not effective to achieve this end.
2. Freedom To Innovate. Teachers need the freedom to do their jobs effectively, taking advantage of new ideas when they truly have promise. In addition, we must continue to encourage charter schools, enabling expanded opportunities for students, parents, and teachers.
3. Leverage Technology Responsibly. Living in the Silicon Forest gives us access to many technological tools. However, we need to look carefully at technology expenditures and ensure that we are not just following popular trends, but pursuing key educational goals.

For all these reasons, please vote for Erik Seligman for the Hillsboro school board. If you have any questions, please email me at I deeply appreciate your support.