Friday, April 27, 2007

Every School a Good School

There’s a lot of talk about making every school a good school. According to the talk, if we do that, then almost everyone will just send their child to the neighborhood school and we will have diversity, uniformly high academic achievement, reduced transportation costs, and no more capacity or assignment issues. I write “almost everyone” because students with special needs and students seeking alternative education or special programs may or may not be enrolled at their neighborhood school.

First of all, I don't believe it. Even if every school is regarded as a "good" school, there will be differences and people will have preferences which will outweigh proximity. There still won't be a high school option for families in Queen Anne and Magnolia and there still won't be enough elementary capacity in Eastlake and Capitol Hill. You can be sure that many neighborhood schools will not be diverse.

Despite all of the talk, the District has not demonstrated any ability to make any impact – positive or negative – on school quality. Who can name a time when the District made a school into a good school? Near as I can figure, the only people who ever get any credit for turning a school into a good school are principals who inspire a team of teachers towards an effective Vision. Ben Wright did it when he was at Thurgood Marshall. Hajara Rahim did it at Van Asselt. Pat Hunter does it at Maple. There are, of course, others. Individual teachers can do it for their classes as Anitra Pinchback did it when she was at AAA. They all did something different, but the common theme for them all was to set high expectations and maintain them. They support students to reach those expectations, but they don’t ever drop the expectations.

This is clearly what works in practice. Setting and maintaining high expectations appears to be the key. The District pays a lot of lip service to this idea, but I’ve never seen them actually take any action in support of it. I’m not sure what action they could take. How would they hold principals accountable for setting and maintaining high expectations? What consequences could they impose on those who don’t? Could they actually fire the ones who don’t do it? I’m not sure they could; the principals have a union, you know. How would they hold teachers accountable for setting and maintaining high expectations? What consequences could they impose on those who don’t? Could they actually fire the ones who don’t do it? I’m not sure they could; the teachers have a union, too.

In public K-12 education it may not be possible to hold the adults accountable, but it is possible to hold the students accountable. It's upside-down accountability because they are the people with the least power to change the system, but it is the accountability that is possible. The District could effect this type of accountability for setting and maintaining those high expectations by writing and enforcing a strict promotion / non-promotion policy. Unfortunately, they lack the political will and courage for that. It will be hard for them to stick to their principles when, in the first year, about half of the students are not promoted and about 80% of the black students are not promoted (WASL math pass rates for African American 6th grade students in 2006: 19.9%, for all students: 49.3%). There is going to be a serious upset in the community when four out of five black students are not promoted to the next grade. There is going to be a lot of talk about disproportionate outcomes and institutional racism.

Of course, this will make the percieved differences in school quality a whole lot worse before it makes it any better. Imagine the consequences on choice when 80% of a third grade class at a school fails to be promoted. Who would choose that school for their child? Who would be happy with that assignment? Particularly when another school promotes 80% of their third graders under the same rigorous criteria. What will it do to class sizes?

Is there anything else the District could do to help make every school a good school?


Anonymous said...

Charlie you say... "You can be sure that many neighborhood schools will not be diverse."

Are the schools (other than all city draw programs) diverse now? Have you walked around View Ridge, Laurelhurst, Bryant lately? How about Montlake? Almost all white. How about TT minor, Thurgood Marshall and Leschi? All African American. Choice is not promoting diversity.

In regard to not holding the adults accountable, I think we should find a way. Other states (with unions) do. In Florida if a school receives and F two years in a row that school is closed. Period. No second chances. Seattle needs to find a model that will hold teachers and principals accountable and follow through with action. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the under performing schools need the strongest leaders. And, they need to be accountable directly to the Superintendant. Period

You also say you have not seen the district "make a school good". I think John Stanford did an excellent job transforming Latona into the John Stanford School. It is one of the most succesful programs in the city. We just need the leadership. Hopefully the new Supt. will provide it.

Anonymous said...

The District could set a goal of providing pre-K education throughout the city. State funding would probably be needed; this would require a unified effort on the part of parents, teachers and School Districts across the state to convince the legislature that this is needed and that we are willing to pay for it with additional taxation. This is a critical starting point to making every school a good school and may help to solve some of the issues with poorly performing students.

Anonymous said...

Charles Mas wrote: "Hajara Rahim did it at Van Asselt. Pat Hunter does it at Maple."

These two principals are accidents. And the district hasn't taken any visible steps to convince anyone that they want more of them. It's unlikely that the district even understands how to hire more of them. Thus you will continue to see new principals hired with no regard to the qualities that these successful principals have.

Ms. Hunter and Ms. Rahim undoubtedly have much to contribute to the principal selection process, but will the district substantially change that process for the better? No. Not a chance. Ms. Hunter and Ms. Rahim will continue to be merely accidental people.

This is a big issue in whether any other schools will ever be improved in a similar way.

Anonymous said...

I believe the district can "make a school a good school"

They can infuse the school with highly desirable programs, such as Montessori, Spectrum, language emersion etc.

Instead of just getting lump sum of money, they can be provided resources, in the way of extra staff to reduce class size, tutors, extended day, etc.

Provide "bad" schools with the strongest, top notch principals and teachers. The New School does this, and I think it is in part why they are successful.

Give these schools clear bench marks, and a time frame to achieve their goals. Make clear the consequences for failure. If schools fail to improve, look closely at the leadership. Perhaps, a change of command is in order.

I am an optimist. I think we can have great schools. I think we need very strong leadership at the district level to accomplish this, but I think we can accomplish it. Seattle is just so wishy washy, and nicey nicey. It's time to get tough, and kick some behind.

Anonymous said...

I feel it should be said somewhere in this discussion, for whatever it's worth, that Seattle schools *are* by and large better than they used to be when I was a student in them, a bunch of years ago. My kids have been better educated and are safer and happier than I was at that age.

Also, believe it or not, the district is much more forthcoming with information and cooperates much more with parents than they used to. Partly that's because they have to -- I went to school in the pre-FERPA days, when the secretaries could know my test scores, but my mom couldn't.

Progress does get made. Slowly, but it does.

The English Teacher said...

Mr. Mas,

I appreciate your article and your questions, but I don't find that your assumptions accord with my experience.

For example, I certainly can, and should, hold my high-skilled students to high standards. I find relatively few obstacles to doing so, in fact. I work like a fiend to do it, but I do it (I'd like to think). That doesn't mean I can't improve my teaching. I'm trying my best to learn to be a better teacher all the time. However, I can see how my efforts to become a better teacher will pay off in improved instruction that will ultimately improve my students' learning experiences.

The situation is much different with my classes of low-skilled students. I believe I can become a better teacher for those students, too. The difference is that I face obstacles that are basically systemic. With classes of 25 to 30 low-skilled students, I find that there are simply not enough hours in the day to reach all of those students. I work every single day as a teacher, about 75 hours a week. I don't believe anyone works harder than I do. Yet, there is simply too much work for too few people. I see that basic reality all around me. All of my colleagues are faced with the same exact problem.

In other words, I can set all the high standards I want with some students, but my ability to help them reach those high standards is limited. Before you talk simplistically about setting high standards and maintaining them, you might try teaching a class with a high poverty rate and an daily absentee rate of, say, 25%. You might try teaching a class of 25, with 3-5 students arriving ready to learn and 25 students who have serious social, learning, and/or emotional issues. I think I'm a good teacher, but I'm not a miracle worker. Every teacher I know needs more support—more support from an underfunded special education department, more support from an understaffed administration, more support in smaller class sizes, more support in functional computer equipment, and so on.

I am outraged that my low-skilled students are neglected by an underfunded education system. More people, if they recognized what was happening in our schools, would be outraged too.

Anonymous said...

The English Teacher said:

"With classes of 25 to 30 low-skilled students, I find that there are simply not enough hours in the day to reach all of those students."

To bring those kids up to grade level, what would you estimate the necessary class sizes to be?

How many instructional assistants (reading, bilingual, special ed) per class would be needed?

How many tutors (parent or nonprofit volunteer tutors, or paid district tutors) would be needed per classroom?

How many hours of outside reading per year would the kids need to do to catch up?

How do these estimates for your classes at your school relate to the extras needed at other schools with greater or lesser needs? For example, can you relate them to what is provided now at Van Asselt, for example?

What are we talking about in terms of extra people and hours to bring them up to grade level? In other words, is the district allocating 20% extra for these low skilled kids when they need 200%?

The English Teacher said...

"To bring those kids up to grade level, what would you estimate the necessary class sizes to be?"

I'm not up on the research on class sizes, so I'll have to rely on my own experience. I've taught writing classes at a private school with a very high percentage of ELL students and students of color--say, 75%. The classes had no more than 20 students. I think I achieved good results with those students. However, I also had excellent support from our administration, and the school was a fun place to be for most students.

"How many instructional assistants (reading, bilingual, special ed) per class would be needed?"

I don't know. I've never had an instructional assistant in my classroom.

Right now, I think it would be a improvement if it weren't so labor-intensive to get information about students from the Special Education department. Those teachers are so overwhelmed by their workload that a simple request for an IEP is a big chore.

"How many tutors (parent or nonprofit volunteer tutors, or paid district tutors) would be needed per classroom?

How many hours of outside reading per year would the kids need to do to catch up?"

I don't know. However, I can say that the Read Right program at Garfield has apparently been very successful at raising the reading level of low-skilled students. The money for that program was raised by the PTSA. I'm told it has been well implemented. I don't know what their current budget is for Read Right, nor how many students it serves.

"How do these estimates for your classes at your school relate to the extras needed at other schools with greater or lesser needs? For example, can you relate them to what is provided now at Van Asselt, for example?"

I can't compare a secondary classroom's needs to an elementary classroom's needs. In addition, I'd rather not talk about my school in detail.

"What are we talking about in terms of extra people and hours to bring them up to grade level? In other words, is the district allocating 20% extra for these low skilled kids when they need 200%?"

I wish I knew. To determine the costs of the extra resources needed to reach these students, we'd have to do detailed study.

The English Teacher said...

Allow me to add that any effort to raise the skill level of low-skilled students will be undermined if those students frequently skip school. Here, for example, are the average daily unexecused absence rates for 2005-2006 at Seattle's major high schools:

Cleveland 13.0%
Rainier Beach 12.9%
Franklin 10.4%
Sealth 8.9%
Ingraham 6.7%
Ballard 4.8%
Garfield 4.7%
Center School 4.1%
Nathan Hale 3.5%
Roosevelt 2.8%
West Seattle 2.8%

Mary said...

the english teacher, you said "However, I also had excellent support from our administration..."

I'm interested in what that consists of, looks like.

I heard some debate the other day about whether a principal is needed in every building, especially very small schools - i.e., could a principal be responsible for 2 <200 elementary schools. Any opinions from your vantage point?

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid in Brooklyn, NY, I went to a Catholic school. My family were Italian immigrants, as were many of the families that attended this school. Our tuition was a pay as you can, arrangement. We were a low income, work a day, family. The teachers had 60-75 students in their classes, and did an excellent job. We were well behaved, and respectful, and were very well prepared for public high school. My point is, what has happened? Why were teachers able (a 75 kid class was not uncommon in parochial schools) to handle 75 kids then, and can't handle 25 kids now?

I am really tired of hearing how over worked, and over loaded teachers are. I appreciate the jobs that you do, but as a parent I don't want to hear the moaning and groaning any more.

The English Teacher said...


You asked about what good administration looks like. Let me put it this way: our director made home visits. When my students saw the director treating me with respect, they understood they were to respect me, too. The fact that the director had had dinner with their parents made a difference to the students.

I'm perfectly capable of dealing with parents, but whenever I thought it was useful to have the director or other administrative staff involved, they were there, and they were effective.

I can't comment on the idea of not having a principal at a small school. It's beyond my expertise.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of home visits in public school. It's more of a pre-school thing. For children that will be leaving home for the first time. It puts them at ease. It's a lovely idea, but it's unrealistic at elementary school, and absurd at higher grades. There must be other ways that admin can support the staff/teachers.

Anonymous said...

Parents are much more important to a child's success or lack of it than are teachers, starting very early.

Especially for families without the means to give their children such a good start, a good preschool can help, more so when the parents are closely involved in the preschool and learn from it. This is the idea behind Seattle Community College's parent cooperative preschools.

A WS friend once had a kid or two in the parent co-op preschool started by South Seattle Community College. At the time, he and his wife thought it was very good. All three community colleges have them. Seattle Central has them at six locations.

A concern for some families is the cost: a hundred to several hundred dollars a month, depending on age and the number of preschool days and hours a week.

If more poor kids could attend these particular preschools for a few years each, it might alleviate some of the intractable teaching problems that SPS teachers face in K and primary grades, and forever after.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see one shred of unbiased evidence supporting the notion that "a strong principal transforms a school". That idea seems to be something everyone would like to believe. Why? A principal could be sort of figure for that ever popular "accountablity", perhaps. The average tenure of a principal in SPS is 5 years. How could they possibly make a measurable difference. Plus, the teacher's union protects teaching contracts, rewards, hiring, and firing. My experience is that they're largley irrelevant. Boing, bungee principal in, boing boing, bungee principal out. Nothing really different. Of course, really bad ones can screw it up.

Anonymous said...

So Charlie, would you really like to see your kindergarten filled with 21 year old retarded people? (You didn't pass our new kindergarten WASL, or the DRA, or the WAAS, so kindergarten forever for you!) People of all abilities are entitled to education with their same age peers, regardless of disability and regardless of their WASL status.

While it's clear that you don't want retarded 21 year olds in kindergarten (and you could probably weed them out).... what about 8 year olds with an IQ of 80 (not quite retarded and maybe not in special ed)? Or 10 year olds with an IQ of 75? Should they stay in kindergarten forever because they can't pass some standard? If you think this is some theoretical point, I assure you it isn't. But lucky for the district, your idea will never happen. It probably isn't legal due to arguments that could be made based on the reasoning above.

Anonymous said...

Co-op pre schools are very popular to middle class families. They are very community oriented, parents don't feel connected to the school, and the cost is much much less than day care. We were part of a co-op pre-school in S. Seattle (not the community college co-op). It happened to share the building with a day care. The co-op was filled with white middle income and affluent families, and the day care was filled with low income, afican aerican kids whose families were using (in ost cases) state vouchers. Our co-op did an amazing job of trying to recruit these lower income families, but it just didn't happen. We often talked with the parents at the daycare the shared our building, to try to identify the barriers and here is what we heard from them.

1- The co-op has an emphasis on social engagement, cooperation, fun and play. Discipline is gentle, sharing is encouraged, parents are very involved and help run the school. No academics were presented. The day care, on the other hand worked on early academics, had a strict discipline policy, clear behavior expectations and much less free play for kids. Parents just dropped off and picked up their kids. It worked much better for working parents, while the co-op worked well for families that had a stay at home mom.

2-The co-op was very part time. 2 mornings a week for 3 year olds, 3 mornings a week for 4 year olds. Only mornins, for a few hours. The day care was open 5 days a week, 9 hours a day. Again, much better for a working parent that the co-op part time model.

3- Most of the families we spoke with said "Co-ops are percieved in the african american community to be for white failies."

4- Co-op's don't take vouchers, so even if a low income family was willing to give a co-op a try they might not be able to afford it. (Our co-op had a very generous scholorship program which would pay 100% for a low income family).

Anonymous said...

There needs to be a middle ground as far as moving kids ahead to the next grade level. It happened when we were kids, it was called "getting left back". The difference was, when we went to school kids weren't left back based on a WASL score, they were "left back" based on a report card, and teacher evaluation. The old human factor played a big role, as well as the social abilities of the child. There needs to be a middle ground. We can't pass kids, and move them on to classes when they don't have the ability. It's not only not fair to the teacher and other students in the class, but it's really not fair for the child who is now in a class where he/she can't perform.

The English Teacher said...

RE: What has changed in education?

Since World War II, we've been educating an increasing percentage of our populace in high schools. In the past, many students dropped out and went to work. For many years our economy was structured such that it was possible for a high school dropout to make a good living in a factory and work his way up to the middle class. Now we want to keep students in school because we know the prospects for high school dropouts isn't very good. That has changed the mix of students in high schools. However, we're still operating, to some extent, on old models better suited for decades past. One of the consequences of using an old model is that we don't have enough people doing the work that needs to be done. That's one reason why underfunding matters: underfunding means understaffing. And understaffing means underserved low-skilled students.

RE: Home visits

Garfield Principal Ted Howard does home visits. I'm told he's a popular principal who is getting results.

The director I worked for didn't visit everyone at home, of course. He did "targeted" home visits.

I've heard of programs where teachers make home visits to the homes of high school students. I don't have details about this.


I once heard Michael DeBell speak at a WASL forum at a meeting of the 36th District Democrats. I admire anyone who serves on the Seattle School Board, and Mr. DeBell is a conscientious and dedicated Board member. However, I disagree with his view that we need the WASL because it sets a standard for students. I think we need assessments to see how our students, teachers and schools are doing, but we shouldn't confuse an assessment tool with instruction. The WASL doesn't teach students; teachers teach students. I can have all the high standards I'd like, but that doesn't mean my students will learn anything. In fact, I have many 10th grade LA students who come to class already convinced that they'll fail the WASL and won't graduate. So why bother trying? These students are often not motivated by grades, and if I kick them out of class for disrupting it, I'm often just doing what they want me to do. In the meantime, they can't learn if they're not in class.

The idea that the WASL or high standards will somehow make a difference in these students' lives is pure fantasy. What will make a difference is a very complicated matter. It starts with understanding something of the reality these students are dealing with. Of course, most people don't want to know about that reality. And the parents of these students aren't likely to be posting on this blog. In fact, in some of my classes, over 50% of my students don't have computers at home. I know this because I took a survey.

One question that has been posed is how much outside reading it would take to catch these students up. With some students, I can assign all kinds of outside reading, but that doesn't mean they'll do it. My guess is that if we saw the home lives of some of our students we would better understand why they don't do their homework. With some students, either they do the work at school, or they don't do it at all. That means we have to maximize the learning opportunities at school. For that to happen, we'll need more resources.

Anonymous said...

To the English Teacher...
You want to do away with the WASL, so what type of assesment tool do you want the district to use? OR should they use no assessment at all? PErhaps, teachers shouldn't assess students either. With no assessment, nobody will be accountable, and everything will be happy and shiny. I don't understand? When you say you don't like something, it is always more productive to give your opinion on what you would like to see in int's place. Your ideas. Perhaps, you are just agains accountability all together???

Anonymous said...

You say, "assessments don't teach students, teachers teach students". This is true, of course. The problem is that not all teachers are effective. You appear to be a teacher of high integrity, that cares deeply about your students success. NOt all teachers do. The WASL is one way to hold teachers accountable. Look, when you go to work at Microsoft, your performance is reviewed, right? When you work at McDonalds, your performance is reviewed. Why should teachers be any different. Their performance should also be reviewed. The WASL, while it certainly should not be the sole criteria, should be used as part of a comprehensive picture of what a teacher is doing.

Anonymous said...

What does the WASL actually test? Why do so many minorities and others fail the WASL, particularly the math WASL?

The math WASL definitely doesn't test "math". It's a fine first order approximation, but not useful for much else. Right answers are only a small fraction of the credit. It doesn't test any traditional math "proof" or even "derivation from first principles." It really tests the ability to "chat" informally about math. It also tests the ability to anticipate what is expected, and what will get you credit from an evaluator as a correct answer.

Why is it at all surprising that people who don't share a cultural heritage with the test designers or evaluators are not able to adequately communicate this idle "chat" and fail as result? People with any communication disorder also fail the math WASL in great numbers, even if they are very skilled in math. It would be idiotic to use it as promotion criteria. And clearly, it isn't even standing up as graduation criteria.

Yeah right, it's going to be phased back in sometime in the next decade... when the minorities will magically start passing it. I bet not. As was mentioned, it simply isn't acceptable to fail whole groups and so it will die.

Anonymous said...

The New School at South Shore teachers do home visits at the beginning of each school year. It's a great way to get kids excited about the year before it starts, makes parents feel heard and important, and (probably most importantly) gives teachers an insight into what their students' home situations are.

The English Teacher said...

RE: anonymous @ 9:32

I didn't say I wanted to do away with the WASL. Here are my exact words: "I think we need assessments to see how our students, teachers and schools are doing, but we shouldn't confuse an assessment tool with instruction."

The WASL is an assessment tool. I am for assessments. (I'm against the WASL as a graduation requirement, but that's another issue.) However, I just don't think we should confuse an assessment tool with what it takes to help students to learn. They are two different things. Standards, by themselves, don't help student to learn. What helps students to learn is a very complicated thing, and it depends on many specific factors.

RE: anonymous @ 9:39:

I had to smile when you mentioned Microsoft.

I came to the public schools rather late in life. I started out as a college teacher. Then I had a career in the high tech industry, including Microsoft. Then, to satisfy my ambition to work outdoors, I did construction for a few years, until my body began to wear out. Then I came back to teaching--this time in the private school system. Then, out of social commitment, I moved to the public schools.

As a result, I bring a particular kind of perspective to the SPS. I'm outraged that there is so much that doesn't work. Maybe it's because I'm older and have the expectation that things ought to work. I'm also more politically connected than almost everyone I work with or for. My own view is that teachers are too politically passive. They're the ones closest to the issues, and for obvious reasons they tend to stay out of public affairs. For starters, their first priority is with their students. However, my students don't operate in a political vacuum. They go to schools that, by their very nature, exist within a political context. Too much of the political dialogue is taking place without teachers' voices. For my part, I'll be giving my state representatives an earful when they return from the current session.

But I digress. I'm all for assessments. I don't know that the WASL is the best assessment tool for students, but it's what we have for now. Again, I'm against the WASL as a graduation requirement, but I am for gathering data on student performance.

I'm also for assessing teachers. However, I think the WASL is a crude tool with which to assess teachers. Teacher performance is affected by a host of factors that the WASL doesn't measure: the mix of classes a teacher has, which and how many periods a teacher teaches, the specific context of the school the teacher works in, and so on. Tony Wagner in Making the Grade: Reinventing America's Schools recommends a more sophisticated system for evaluating teachers. I would refer you to that book.

RE: What works

Don't get me wrong. There is much that works within the SPS. My own view is that we should be aware of what is working and build on it.

From a personal perspective, I find it deeply moving when I see students suddenly catch fire--especially students who've seemed so apathetic in the past. There is something profoundly inspiring when students take an assignment and move well beyond the teacher's expectations. It's what inspires me.

Anonymous said...

I teach a different topic than the english teacher, but, when He mentioned the lack of resources for high need kids, I thought of a math problem:

How many people in education, people who set policy AND who are NOT in the classroom,

How many of them can put together a spreadsheet detailing the costs in time and money that it would take for extra tutors, smaller classes, extra remidial help ...???

Hey! while we are doing THAT math problem, let's do another math problem ...

HOW much would those ideas cost, in time per class per student?

Aside from the underfunding problem, what is appalling to me is that with all the super-educated Ph.ds etc etc in education, we don't have specific cost estimates for fixing these inexcusable and solvable problems. We have hand waving and we have whining, oh ... and

Here is another math problem!

Given a vague idea with no specifics on what the idea costs in time to implement, AND, given no money to implement that vague idea, what is the probability that that vague idea is going to be effective?

anonymous for now.

Anonymous said...

Here is a specific (hypothetical) example of the increased costs of more teaching for low skilled students.

In a middle school whose students go on to graduate from high school at a 50% rate, keep the students who are on track to graduate in normal classes at about 27-29 students per teacher.

Put the students who are on track not to graduate in "emergency graduation oriented academics" classes at 18-20 students per teacher. This is 50% more teacher time per student. How much would that cost?

In a school with 621 students (the 2006 average of Denny, Kurose, Meany and Mercer), that would put about 311 students into 11 regular (graduation-bound) classes at 28.3 students per class.

It would put about 310 students in 16 graduation-rescue classes at about 19.4 students per class.

Compared to having all 621 students in 22 regular classes at 28.2 students per class, that would mean having an extra five teachers per school. What do five teachers cost? Probably about the same as two top administrators like Caprice Hollins and her soon to be hired deputy. Unlike these administrators, those extra five teachers could have a reasonable chance of getting some of those kids to graduate from high school.

Net cost: $0.00, but at the cost of some shift of JSCEE overhead into the schools.

Anonymous said...

Let's do a little new math for this proposal. Class size reduction of 33% (class size 30 to class size 20) results in a 50% cost increase. If you give that benefit to half the students, that's around a 25% increase in cost. We can assume that the administrative and all other costs would rise proportionately too... they always do. So sure, maybe a class size reduction for half the students (at an increased cost of 25%) would improve graduation rates... but maybe not. Reduced class sizes didn't help California much... certainly not a sweeping benefit for anyone.

Anonymous said...

Administrative overhead costs are much higher than average in Seattle because of a relatively bloated and ineffective administration that has accumulated over time with little pruning. And still today, little rational organization of the JSCEE hordes is being done to reach real goals like increasing graduation rates.

Overhead costs don't need to be as high as Seattle's are. Reducing those costs and putting more teachers in the neediest classrooms in the neediest schools is not impossible. It is not inevitable that overhead levels will continue to climb. It is not inevitable that people will continue to be sent to conferences rather than to classrooms at Aki Kurose.

You're assuming that bad, vague, non-goal-achieving administration will inevitably continue to spiral higher and higher. I've seldom heard anything so cynical and hopeless said among people who have some experience of good management, which most of you (outside the school district) must have.

Lower class sizes are very much desirable and worthwhile. People know that. The public knows it and cares enough to have voted for it statewide. That's what I-728 was about. I-728 did help in local schools the first year it went into effect, before it was rolled back by the Legislature. Don't tell me it isn't important.

The idea expressed was to redirect some modest, doable amount of JSCEE overhead expenditures to the four poorest middle schools, in the form of approximately five extra teachers each. That's 20 teachers, at perhaps $75,000 total cost each. That's $1.5 million, or something like 15(?) JSCEE overhead administrators. How many people work at the JSCEE, compared to other more effective school districts' administrations?

At the same time, what is taught to the students headed for dropout must be different from what is normally taught to them along the path to dropping out. Instead of pretending that the lower half of the South End middle school kids are going to graduate and teaching them as usual, which is a monstrous disservice to them, someone needs to make sure that every such kid has enough teacher time to get over whatever stumbling blocks he or she has. For some, one such block will be the multiplication tables. For others, long division. For others, fractions. For others, the difference between an adjective and an adverb. For most or all, lots of reading to improve speed and comprehension. For many, getting more practice writing simple nonfiction.

And on and endlessly on, all year until all of the basic essential mysteries that they missed in earlier grades are clear to them. Each kid has a different set of mysteries. Each kid needs enough teaching time to clear them up.

What is so bad about taking the bull by the horns and digging into this? These kids need to graduate. In a fixed overall budget, what better idea do you have to redirect some of the JSCEE's report-shuffling budget into those underperforming schools? $1.5 million in the SPS budget is a pittance, but if a pittance is put in the right place it can help kids. Tell me what you would do for the same cost that would be better at helping them graduate.

Charlie Mas said...

Wow. This is a busy thread.

I like the idea of targeted class sizes. There will be resistance from people who believe that they are advocates for the students in the smaller classes. They will oppose it as "tracking".

As for the question about students who can never get out of kindergarten, I would remind the anonymous poster that students with IEPs are promoted or not promoted based on their performance relative to their IEP and not the standard grade level expectations.

Anonymous said...

You could even take that a step further. Some of the people downtown at HQ used to be principals, and many of them are there because not only do they have teaching certificates but they have ideas about how to solve districtwide problems. Well, enough theory and paperwork. Give each of those people, a handful of the brightest and most teacherly of them, a classroom at Aki filled with the bottom 20% of the kids who are not going to graduate from high school, and say, your job is to make sure these kids graduate. No more hot air. Make sure you do it, and then when you succeed, tell us how you did it.

Also, 20 students per class might not be enough class size reduction for the very bottom tier. The lowest 1/5 (about 120 kids at Aki) might need to have 10 kids per class. That's six more teachers than in the above example. So you'd have to find six HQ administrators to take on that hands-on challenge. And it would cost an extra $600,000, because those people are paid more than teachers.

Is that worth doing? Isn't it better than sitting in a chair at HQ and theorizing, while grad rates move absolutely nowhere in this district?

Anonymous said...

Charlie, students on IEP's are entitled to same age peers regardless of WASL performance. This entitlement is called "least restrictive environment" and it is federally mandated under IDEA. The federal requirement for placement (including grade placement) is that the student be making progress towards HIS IEP GOALS, not anyone else's goals, not anyone else's grade-level expectations, and not the WASL unless it's appropriate. You might be thinking that promotion is negotiated at IEP meetings. I assure you, it never is and never will be. And there's plenty of evidence suggesting it to be poor practice. If you tried to hold up the WASL promotion policy, you would lose very quickly... as all such attempts have also failed in court. In reality, in Seattle, even when parents do want to keep their children on IEP's back, the district strongly resists.

So, if you failed to promote others (those not on IEP's) based on the WASL, the result would be "I want an IEP!" for all the WASL-failures. That, in fact, already happens today (Seattle places people in special ed for failing the WASL, or if it suspects they might fail the WASL... even if they aren't disabled).... but it would happen even more if your policy saw the light of day. But, it won't.

Bottom line: teachers must learn to provide differential instruction. Hard, but not impossible, and not negotiable.

Anonymous said...

The people most likely to resist targeted class size reduction are those in the "on track, full size group."

I can see more of the:

"But education for ALL means my kid should get the same benefit. Why do those slackers always get everything?"

comments already.