Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Why Families Go from Public to Private

Some recent comments about why families who are in Seattle Public Schools move to private schools provide important insights for the district and our new superintendent as they work to increase the percentage of children who attend public school in Seattle.

Several of the comments are excerpted below, and I'd like to hear from more families. If you used to have your kids in Seattle Public Schools, but don't anymore, tell us why. What could convince you to come back? And what could have prevented you from leaving?

From Andrew:
As far as I can tell, the district has done little or no research on why parents choose private instead of public. I've heard from a couple of different sources that next year might be particularly bad -- e.g. I was told that some private schools have claimed that private middle school applications were up over 50% this year! (I have no idea if that data is valid, but anecdotally, I know many active public schools families that have decided to go private... more than I've ever heard of before.) I think a little research in this area will turn up some very clear deficiencies in the system that can and should be addressed.

From Deidre:
In regards to why people go private, I am guessing that there are many reasons, but I will tell you our story. When our son went to kindergarten we lived in the Central area, and our neighborhood school was Leschi, which at that time was a dismal choice (for us). We liked Montlake, Stevens and McGilvra, but had heard that it was almost impossible to get your student into these schools if you didn't live in the neighborhood. In fact that year Stevens filled all of their kindergarten seats with sib's and were not able to take even one new family! We felt forced to either move to a different part of the city or go private. Though it was a hardship for us, and against what we believed in we went private for two years, until we moved to the NE part of Seattle, and transferred into public school. This year we applied for our son to go to Eckstein, our neighborhood middle school (2 miles away), and he didn't get in. He is on the waitlist. We don't think that Summit, AS1 or Hamilton are good fits for our son, and can't comfortably afford private. So, we enrolled him at Kellogg MS in Shoreline, they had space for us and we are not even in their district. They have 690 kids, rival Ecksteins academics (test scores), have a fabulous band, full year science at all grade levels, honors classes in all 4 core subjects (self elected), and every student gets an ibook laptop. We were very impressed, and are taking full advantage. While I would not like to see choice go away, I do think that families need some type of predictability. We will probably have to stay in Shoreline for High school too. One of the reasons we chose this neighborhood was so our son could go to Eckstein and Roosevelt. We didn't get into Eckstein, and it looks like we won't be able to get into Roosevelt either. We live 2.18 miles away from Roosevelt, but according to enrollment services this year, you had to live within 1.81 miles of the building to get in. Our only other neighborhood HS is Hale, and they don't have a great band program (very important to my son), and no AP classes. So off to Shoreline we go, or private perhaps. Either way, Seattle has lost us.

From Anonymous:
I can contribute to why the school district loses so many middle schoolers - at least in NE Seattle. For the most part, everyone I know in public is very happy with their neighborhood elementary school. The problem I've heard is people like Eckstein, but they don't like how HUGE it is. They are satisfied with Eckstein caliber, but what I've heard over and over is some kids do great at Eckstein, but at the very vulnerable age of middle school, if your child is very quiet/not really social, they will become lost there. I know a number of families who pulled their kids out of Eckstein and sent them to private middle school with the full intention of sending them to public again for high school. As a mom of young elementary, I only hear the stories. I've heard some scary/intimidating ones, but I've also heard very positive stories. Most of the positive stories come from parents of very social children. I know families who Eckstein fits for 1 of their children and not the other.I know a number of families who went private for elementary school, not because they were unhappy with their neighborhood schools, but because they didn't want to worry about the Middle school issue because of stories they'd heard, and thus prefer the K-8 model. I plan to evaluate Eckstein for each of my 3 children when the time comes (we live .93 miles away, so I'm not worried about not getting in that one). I'm personally hoping there is change and improvement before then. I don't even want to think about the Roosevelt issue yet (if we can't get into a high school that we live 2 miles away from, there is an issue somewhere).


Anonymous said...

I like neighborhood schools. I like predictibility. I like to look at the schools and know that this is where I want to live, because these are the schools that I want my child to attend. It has worked for so long.

I like choice too, but, choice has it's faults. In the same cluster some schools perform very very well, while others fail and become under enrolled. The good schools get a huge waitlist, and parents panic, and can't predict whether they will draw the golden ticket and "get in". I believe this unpredictibility drives families with the means away from public schools. It's not good for the schools either. The now under enrolled, under performing schools don't have a chance. The students are under served, and the district turns the other cheek.

In this way choice does not make sense. All things have to be fairly equal for choice to work, and goodness knows, Seattle Schools are nowhere near being equal.

Charlie Mas said...

The District needs to intervene when schools don't draw enough students.

Historically, the District's interventions have been unsuccessfull attempts to either
a) force people into the schools with mandatory assignments
b) cut off alternatives

They never consider option c) change the school to make it more attractive to the target market and market/recruit for it.

Anonymous said...

The first comment here is brilliant, and is absolutely true for every parent I have spoken with about the public vs. private issue. There is a sense of panic and uncertainty out there about schooling for our kids that I have to believe would shock and embarrass the leadership at Seattle Schools.

Anonymous is absolutely spot-on when s/he states that unpredictability and inconsistency drives parents away.

What can be done to raise the level of the struggling schools in the clusters with one or two "star" schools?


Anonymous said...

We are one of those families who have chosen to go the private route for Middle School only, but keep the kids in public elementary and high school.

Our experience was driven completely by the district and school and the lack of challenge, discipline and even appearance of caring what happened to these kids in middle school.

Let's put it this way, my opinion, and that of many other parents, in Seattle Middle Schools you may have a good experience if you are in Spectrum, but woe betide you if you are not. The lack of homework, coherent cirriculum, and discipline problems accepted by the district astounded me.

Since then, I have new-found understanding of why the public schools are perceived to be failing.

Lack of space in Spectrum or APP programs, the lowering of the bar to "raise the achievement gap", and, quite frankly, lack of time in school (how many early dismissal/late starts/breaks do they need anyways?) compared to private school all play into the perception that Seattle Public Schools are failing, at least at the middle school level.

Hope this comment sheds some light.

Anonymous said...

the previous poster is absolutely right, the bar is low at, at middle school anyway. We attended Salmon Bay for a year, and the behavior of the children was a constant issue. It was an issue because it was never addressed. It was just accepted that "that's what middle schoolers do". It was eye opening. And, it's not "just what middle schoolers do". Homework was almost non existent, they have no Spectrum or honors classes, and my child was not challenged. At all. And to get the honor (it is an honor with such a HUGE waitlist) of attending this school, my child had to ride the bus an hour and a half each way, every day. It was awful. Salmon Bay is supposed to be one of the best middle school programs in the city. If this is the best, I am scared to know what the worst or even the mediocre look like!

Anonymous said...

If every parent in Seattle could predict (Like parents in Shoreline can) exactly which schools their child would get into, I think middle class and upper middle class families with the means would stay in public school. If they can afford to pay tuition, they can probably afford to buy a home in a neighborhood where they were comfortable with their school choices. I know this sounds elitist, but it would draw a good percentage (I believe) of the 50% of private school families.

Now for choice. Can their be limited choice??? What if your child was guaranteed a spot in your reference school, one or perhaps two other schools in your cluster, and one alternative school. Then, you could apply to any other school in the city and get into a school on a space available basis, and provide your own transportation.

I like limited choice. And like the first poster, I want predictability. I want to know that my child will be able to get into a school that we are comfortable in.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think limited choice is what Michael deBel may be moving towards. He had a recent op-ed piece in the PI (or Times, I forget) about this issue.

But the posts here have shown the ying and yang of choice. Not everyone in this city has good choices available to them (especially at the middle school level). But the lack of predictibility is driving people away. (And it gets worse when you seemingly have more students than seats in one area which may be the case in Roosevelt/Hale. It would be interesting to see how many high school students there are in the NE and would they fill those schools.)

Another problem is limiting your alternative choice to whatever is in your region. The alternatives are all different and so just saying, "here's the alternative for your area" might not work. It might also mean that schools like TOPS which are all-city draws will go regional which I expect will make many people unhappy.

I personally am against changing high schools to be assigned to a region. We developed these high schools NOT to be cooke-cutter and to say to a kid, no nationally-ranked jazz band for you because you don't live near Roosevelt or Garfield or no bio-tech for you because you don't live near Ballard would be wrong. (If it did change, then you likely would have to have auditions for the bands, lottery for speciality programs, etc.)

But limited choice might help with predictibility. We have one other consideration which is transportation and its costs. A lot of money is going out the door on transportation and it has to change. I am still mystified as to why there are buses going down every little side street, for example. It takes more time and costs more money and if they aren't special ed kids or elementary, they need to let kids off at major corner and they walk a couple of blocks.

Anonymous said...

I think Anon and Charlie have hit it spot on. Anyone with a basic marketing background knows that people like predictability and a strong positive message. The District is responsible for maintaining predictability/consistency and developing a powerful message fine-tuned for each school/program.

I helped conduct kindergarten tours this year at our school. Parents have a large role in implementing the tours. Some schools have power points and coffee and other schools just have three tired parents. The District could step up and "up-sell" particular schools by targeting preschool audiences, holding professionally-done tours, holding lectures and events for the pre-K crowd, and basically acting like a business. If the CAICEE recommendations in that area are ever followed, we will see improvement.

Bottom line- market share is everything in a state where funding follows enrollement numbers. How to close the achievement gap? Bring income diversity back to the schools. Retain the middle class and high-income families, and all of our schools will benefit.

As an active parent, I too have recently talked with folks who are leaving the system and going private. The most common reason I've heard is that parents feel a child is not being given individualized attention. Training in differentiated instruction can work to bring staff up to current best practices. The second most common reason I've heard is bureaucracy. Teachers put in many long, hard hours and many are very responsive to parents. However, when parents try to communicate to building, regional, District, or Board administrators, there is often a sense that the institution is valued over the kids. Rarely does one encounter a sense of openness. Top-down modeling from the new Sup. that it really, really is about the kids vs. about protecting territory would go a long way toward changing that culture.

Anonymous said...

Just curious with what Melissa said about High Schools with different draws and not limiting choice in that area....My impression is that Ballard and Roosevelt both have huge wait lists and with distance being a huge factor in how you get in, wouldn't they not be drawing students from all over the city anyway? If a person in Laurelhurst can't get into Roosevelt, how could a person in Ballard who wants to take advantage of the drama program at Roosevelt get in? Same with Magnolia residents not getting into Ballard - if they can't get in, how can someone who lives in Mt. Baker ever have hope of getting in?

If you have a few schools that are so popular that some students who live close to those schools are forced to go to other schools much farther away, it is time to figure out something different.

I think it's great that there are these great programs at different schools, but I also feel like it is absolutely wrong to not be able to get your child in the school closest to your home.

Charlie Mas said...

The District should make an assessment of the demand for public school services, disaggregated by location and program and then re-allocate their resources and locate the programs to meet the demand.

I hate to say this, but "Duh!"

There is no other rational means for determining appropriate capacities. The capacity should be adjusted to meet the demand.

There are only two reasons that the District has not done this already:

1) They don't freaking care what the people want or where they want it. The career fortunes of bureaucrats are determined by how they respond to the preferences of principals and higher-ranking bureaucrats. No one is evaluated based on how well they respond to the community.

2) They are, in fact, afraid to talk to the people.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Anonymous, you're right about once a school is overenrolled and distance kicks in, it doesn't matter if we have an all-city draw for high school. You plain won't get in if you aren't close enough. That's why I asked the question about how many high school aged kids there are in the NE. Heck, I wonder how it breaks out all over the city; it's probably in the Facilities Master Plan (which is currently being revised).

Anonymous said...

As a parent who has kids in public and private school, my question is:

What does the school board and the school district think about the fact that so many active, committed parents in the North end are choosing private school for middle school? Do they care? Do they have a plan to get those parents back? Or have they just written us off?

My impression, from 10 years of dealing with the district staff on this is that they honestly do not care, and will not change, but I would love to be proven wrong by a school board member or district employee.

Your thoughts School Board?

Anonymous said...

Choice is actually a sham anyway, because except for the alternative schools, all other schools are neighborhood schools and tie breakers are sib's and then how far away you live from the school. So, you may be able to have "choice" if you choose an under enrolled (generally this translates to under performing) school, but if you want a high performing, popular school and don't live in the neighborhood you would never get in. So who does choice benefit?? I don't get the whole "choice" method, when there is actually, no choice.

Anonymous said...

I still think there is a need to replicate schools programs that work and close/merge or re-invent the programs that are not working. If you have a huge waitlist at Roosevelt, but Summit's HS program is under-enrolled, then families are telling you that there is not the need for an alternative, low performing, HS program in NE Seattle, but there is a need for a comprehensive, HS that offers AP classes, drama and band. When are we going to look at what families want, and provide it to them???????

Anonymous said...

Another factor is people moving in from out of town and not being able to get into popular programs, as well as having to wait a year to get into gifted programs. I should think with all the high-tech folks around here that must be happening all the time, and who knows how many folks who get jobs in Seattle proper decide to settle on Mercer Island or the east side due to the generally better reputation of their schools? If you think it's tough making a school decision when you live here already, try doing it long-distance!

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

My son attended elementary school in the NW cluster of Seattle for 3 years. We left Seattle Public Schools a year ago - but not to go to private school. We moved to another district altogether. So, not only did SPS lose our enrollment and its associated funding dollars, but the city of Seattle also lost our property taxes. We got a better school district, more house and a smaller mortgage (ok, and a worse commute) - my point being - Having families leave Seattle Public Schools doesn't just affect Seattle Public Schools and they don't necessarily leave just to attend private schools (or the Shoreline district.)

The elementary school in Seattle we attended was one of the district's finest. I dare say, it is better than the one we're in at our new district. However, for us, it boiled down to that uncertainty everyone here keeps mentioning. I have the highest of hopes for Seattle Public Schools and fully believe that "someday" it will all be turned around. Problem is, I can't afford to wait for "someday" - I have kids in school TODAY and I don't want them, and their educations, to be the "guinea pigs" so-to-speak, while the district figures it all out. We left because we needed to feel secure in a solid district (a "top" performing district but not necessarily the "best") - one that is stable with committed leadership and evident direction/vision. This fact, combined with my admitted horrific fear of SPS middle schools, meant we moved to invest more in our kids' educational futures, rather than leaving it to chance that, by the time our kids left elementary school, the district would have its act together.

Anonymous said...

Helen, your post reminds me of what I learned after my partner and I accepted employment offers in WA. We relocated from the east coast to the east side after several future co-workers told us not to bother with Seattle schools. It was strongly suggested that we buy/lease in Bellevue, Redmond or Kenmore because this would give us access to 3 excellent school districts. What does it say that Seattle’s school reputation precedes it by hundreds of miles?

I found much to like when I read school profiles on the Seattle website. But after investigating school choices and enrollment procedures, I felt totally defeated by Seattle's way of doing things. I still don't understand why they can't cultivate excellent schools in every neighborhood where they are needed. Asking this makes me feel naïve in light of the accounts I read here. Fewer schools will force students into a competition for reduced resources unless the district does a complete overhaul. I hope the new superintendent can change the Seattle system for the better.

Anonymous said...

I believe what the prior poster said nails it down on why a Seattle employer would say not to bother with SPS - if you move from out of the area, you will only be able to get in an underenrolled school, thus likely underperforming school (at least for the first year - then you may get lucky applying for a future grade if you move really close to a more popular school). I know a family who moved here from out of State. They are advocates of public education and chose a neighborhood where they liked the school (Madison Park/Mcgilvra). Their bad for not learning the enrollment process in Seattle ahead of time - but most anywhere else you go in the Country allows you to enroll in the neighborhood school at any time. Needless to say, they reluctantly ended up sending their children to Meridian (a private school).

I think most people who are from out of the area do things the old fashion way...they research the schools then pick the house based on where they want their children to go to school. Who would think that you can move next door to a school, but if your child is in 2nd or 3rd grade they may not get in. Who would also think that you could move 2 miles away from a middle school and high school and not get in because rather than add capacity, the city would prefer ship you off to an underenrolled school farther away.

I'm still trying to hold faith that SPS will figure it out.

Anonymous said...

How can Bryant have a 70 kid kindergarten waitlist and John Rogers have none? How can Roosevelt have a 365 kid waitlist for 9th grade and Hale and Summit have none? How can Eckstein have a 79 kid waitlist for 6th grade, and Hamilton and Summit have none? What is the district doing to make the unpopular schools more attractive? More succesful? Better performing? I don't think just marketing will work, they need to copy the succesful schools. Or, re-invent some less popular schools by adding Montessori, Spectrum, language imersion, etc.

If the neighborhood turns away from Hale and Summit, perhaps they are saying that they want a comprehensive HS. If a neighborhood is demanding AP programs, instead of the Academy approach of Hale then give it to them. Obviously something is wrong, and the district just can't leave it up to the schools and neighborhoods to work out on their own. They need to analyze and survey the neighborhoods, find out what they need, and provide it (within reason) to them.

Melissa Westbrook said...

A lot of the later posts are very sad but not surprising. To address a few things:

-you cannot keep adding capacity at schools that are already overenrolled. It is not fair to the students and faculty. When my older son entered Eckstein 8 years ago,the superintendent at the time got a lot of flack from parents in one area and sure enough, 90 more kids were added. He also kindly sent a letter to all those parents apologizing for the problems and yet never informed the other 1000 parents that he had increased the size of the school by almost 10%. Eckstein is larger than half of the high schools and yet gets budgeted as a middle school. The staff does a fantastic job with large number of students there. Roosevelt was built for 1600 and has 1700. There are not enough lockers for everyone. You cannot add more capacity there either.

-one of the prime reasons for school closure is to not spread resources so thinly, stretching resources at schools that are underenrolled. Closing schools should, in theory, drive more resources to fewer schools with more schools operating at capacity and covering their costs.

-I, along with other parents, did try to fight the change at Hale. A counselor there told me that they didn't want to advertise what they were doing for fear of losing parents who wanted separate AP/Honors classes for their students. Well, parents aren't dummys and,of course, have figured it out. Hale is a comprehensive high school, by the way.

Dr. Thorton talked about this issue of site-based management at his interview forum. I agree with him on the earned autonomy model. The problem is Hale was operating well but each high school, much more than middle and elementary to my experience, operates as its own fiefdom. The teachers and staff at many high schools very much take ownership and steer a lot of the course a high school will take. It is up to us, as parents, to tell the district that (1) we want to be part of the process as the "consumers" of their schools about what is in those schools and (2) we want a pullback on site-based management and want a clear vision of what a Seattle public high school will offer.

Melissa W.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't talking about adding capacity at existing schools by overcrowding them - I was talking about adding capacity by adding an additional school/through rennovations. Summit K-12 should be a new middle school. NE Seattle needs more middle school capacity rather than continuing to overcrowd Eckstein and get parents to agree to send their kids West to Hamilton.

Also - Nathan Hale needs to add capacity with their upcoming rennovation and they need to continue to provide AP classes to adequately serve NE Seattle parent/children wishes.


Anonymous said...

This year Roosevelt has a huge wait list, a few years ago it was Ballard (law suit resulted) soon it will be Garfield. This sort of wild fluctuation is one of the effects of 30% of our students being in private schools. That 30% is a huge unpredictable float that has the power to displace current public school students if they are offered a reason (like a lovely renovated building) to return to public schools. This year, people in the NE have to “settle” for Garfield. Next year when the remodeled building opens people who live two miles from it won’t be able to get in. Sometimes it amazes me how short sighted people can be (why didn't Roosevelt have a wait list LAST year?). We cannot have real predictability in our school system as long as 30% of our school age population is out there looking for a reason to jump in (or out) at any time. I expect that the solution is to make every school a great school, limiting choice won’t do that.


Anonymous said...

I second the above posters comments. Summitt middle and high school are under enrolled. Parents (apparantly from all over the city since they have an all city draw) are not happy choosing Summit for middle and HS. So, since Ecksteing and Roosevelt are so over crowded why not use that building as a Middle School, as well as adding capacity to Hale. And to re-iterate, it appears that the NE wants AP classes and perhaps a great band program as then numbers show with Roosevelts large (364 kid) waitlist. So lets get AP and honors back at Hale. Doesn't the public/consumer drive the market???
I would never suggest adding capacity at Eckstein or Roosevelt. If there is one common complaint from NE families when it comes to Ecksten, is it's size. Way to big for a middle school. Let's relieve it, and not force parents out to Hamilton, which now has a waitlist too.

Anonymous said...

What wild fluctuations are you referring to?? Roosevelt, Ballard, and Eckstein Always get a fairly large waitlist. Every year. Magnolia families are still not getting into Ballard. This year Roosevelt had a larger than normal waitlist probably due to renovations, but it, as well as Eckstein are always at capacity with large waitlists. In the NE it's not year to year, it's pretty consistent. There is a great lack of capacity at all levels, middle, HS and elementary. That is why no schools were closed here. We need more capacity, and it's not fair to force NE neighborhood kids to go to NW Seattle schools (Hamilton), to Shoreline, or to alternative schools that have excess space like Summit and AS1. We need capacity. Plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

Families in Seattle are assigned to traditional schools based on their geographic location (how close they are to the school). Because all of the "popular", high performing schools fill up, nobody outside of the neighborhood can get into them. Yet, the neighborhood kids are still not guaranteed a spot in ther neighborhood school, and this causes parents a great dearl of stress. They realize they must have a back up plan, just in case. They go to look at private school thinking if we don't get into public school X then we will go to private school Z. The problem is when they see private school Z, they compare it to public school X and realize how much more their child will receive at private school Z. If they have the means they may decide not to even pursue public school X anymore. How do I know this....it happened to us. We wanted our child to go to Stevens elementary in Capitol Hill, but since we were not guaranteed a spot, we decided to just "check out" a couple of neighborhood private schools. Fell in love one and decided to forget all about Stevens. Had we been guaranteed a spot at Stevens, we would not have needed a plan B, and thus would have never even looked into private school. So who does choice benefit? If you live in the neighborhood near a school you like you still have no guarantees.l, but don't have any guarantees, stress out, and need a plan b just in case. . If you live outside of the neighborhood you would never get in, so you have no choice there either. Doesn't make sense to me. We need predictability. We would be at Stevens today. I know alternative school do it all differently, I'm just speaking about traditional schools here.

Anonymous said...

Possibly off topic, but I'm hoping a Summit parent can speak to my question: would the school consider a switch to K-8?

It seems counter intuitive to have a high school program across the road from Hale. Summit high school enrollment and graduation numbers are very low. I know it's an alternative program, but they're low nonetheless.

There is a great need for middle school seats, and many families want K-8 schools. (I think Greg Thornton went on record advocating more K-8 schools.) Summit appears to be under utilized. There are enough buildings and play fields to develop a K-12 "village," and the schools are easily reached by Metro from all directions. WenG

Melissa Westbrook said...

I know some Summit parents and could forward your query.

Summit was developed as a K-12 and, when it was in the central area, made more sense in terms of being an all-city draw. The district "temporarily" moved them 20 years ago to the far north end. They have been pretty much fighting for their lives over the last 2+years. I personally do not believe that district staff have faith in the Summit program.

I think Summit would be willing to listen to any idea. I'm not sure parents in the district have enough information to understand Summit's focus and form so maybe it would be good to start over. However, I think the district staff would just as soon start over entirely and discard Summit's focus. (I say that because 2+ years ago when the district was reformulating the enrollment plan/school closures, they planned to summarily close Summit without explanation.)

Anonymous said...

The NE part of Seattle has more alternative schools than any other cluster in the district. We have AEII (K-5), Summit (K-12), AS1 (K-8). Perhaps we do not need all of these alternative programs in one geographic area? AEII seems to get fair enrollment, but AS1 does not fill their elementary or middle school program, and Summit does not fill its elementary, middle or high school programs. AS1 and Summit are grossly under performing schools, (I don't buy the opt out of the WASL excuse that AS1 likes to use for their horrid test scores - 13% pass rate on the math WASL).

On the other hand, the high performing, very popular, traditional schools in the NE are over enrolled, with kids being turned away. There is a clear need for capacity in traditional schools, and excess/extra capacity in alternative schools. Isn't this as clear as it gets? Don't the numbers tell the story?

I don't want to see the alternative programs closed, but why not combine AEII, AS1, and Summit, and have them share a buiding?It would certainly save a lot on transportation costs. We could use those buildings to create more middle and high school seats. And, I agree with the earlier poster, Hale needs to increase its enrollment, and offer AP classes. Give the people what they want!!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher in the district and I have a two-year-old. I'm already thinking private because I abhor the low academic and behavioral expectations of the schools I have seen. I really am amazed at the behavior that is acceptable in the high schools- kids in the hall at all times, etc. I have worked in other urban districts, and the expectations were much higher.
None of the other teachers/staff at my school have kids in the district past elementary.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of behavior. Here is what we witnessed in middle school this year. We feel that the schools in Seattle just do not discipline students enough. So much, is just over looked that it has become the norm.

1) Child curses at the teacher. Teacher trys to calm the child down, but no disciplinary action.
2)Child screams at the teacher, leaves class slamming the door. Teacher asks the child to use a lower voice and calm down. No disciplinary action.
3)Fight on the school bus resulting in a black eye. The instigator was banned from the bus for two days.
4)Kids wandering through the hall unsupervised. Supposed to have a hall pass, but its never enforced.
5)A lot of theft. Teacher had his ipod stolen, another teacher had his laptop stolen off his desk at school. Bus driver had his cell phone stolen, three students stole the Halloween candy from a special ed room. No disciplinary action for any of the above, except the ipod theft, which resulted in the student having to garden the beds in front of the school.
6)Kids leave campus, and nobody ever notices (its a closed campus).

Behavior is no longer addressed. Kids are not expected to behave themselves. They have no respect for adults or authority, and nobody seems to care. For an incoming family, this is very scary, especially if you have a young kindergartener who you don't want to be influenced. This surely must drive some to private school.By the way, we are in a "good" middle school, I can't imagine what some of the more challenging middle schools are like.

Anonymous said...

How about a note on why one family went from private to public? A good program can actually make that happen. Our child needed accelerated education. Private wasn't working. We found out about Spectrum almost by accident (not like they market it or anything) and have had an excellent elementary experience. A little trepidational about how middle school will play out, but we're willing to give it a try.

Anonymous said...

I know another family who went from private to public and are very happy. Their child needed a larger circle of friends, and was very sports oriented. The private school had only 60 kids and they were much more artistically natured than sports natured. The parents transferred him to a public NE elementary in 2nd grade and they are very happy there.

Just another not for marketing. Seattle families are smart, they will research and find the best place for their child, but Seattle still needs to market the heck out their schools. Public school may have been able to draw this family at kindergarten instead of at 2nd grade?? There are a lot of great things happening in public school and we need to get the work out.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. The elementary and high schools are great, its the middle schools that are the problem, and that's why so many go private.

Anonymous said...

Statistics across the country show that children who attend private school do no better than children who attend public school, academically.

So, there must be social reasons that families choose private. It must be the lack of predictability, large class size, behavior issues etc.

I know Bryant's math club beats Evergreen's (private, gifted school), in competitions, and Bryant doesn't even have Spectrum.

Anonymous said...

New to the district...Can someone clariy the following. I thought that you were guaranteed a spot in your reference school, but could apply to other schools in your cluster (not guaranteed to get in) and get transportation. IS what I'm reading above true, that a family may not even get into their reference school sometimes?

Anonymous said...

No guarantees. Our reference school is Eckstein, we didn't get in.

Beth Bakeman said...

There are also big differences in how enrollment is handled for elementary, middle and high school.

From the district's website on the enrollment FAQ page I found the following:

What's a middle school "region"?
Middle schools are grouped into regions for purposes of determining assignment priority and transportation. A middle school region includes a group of elementary school reference areas. Each region has two regular middle schools. Students who apply during Open Enrollment will be given an assignment priority if they choose a school in their region. (Priorities for special programs may vary.) To find your region, call or visit an Enrollment Center of the Bilingual Family Center.

What's a "reference area "?
A "reference area" is a geographic area surrounding an elementary school. Every student has one elementary reference area school based on the student's home address. Elementary reference areas are combined into middle school regions, which are used to determine both assignment priorities and transportation eligibility for middle school students.

Are there "regions" for high schools?
No. All high schools are part of the same region, which is district-wide for Seattle Public Schools.

Roy Smith said...

I am a parent of a child at AS1.

The problem with excess number of alternative programs in the NE should be relieved by moving the two all-city draw programs (AS1 and Summit) closer to the center of the city. Having two all-city draw programs located at the extreme north end of the district is non-sensical.

Whether AS1 is "underperforming" by WASL standards is really irrelevant, as many (most?) of the families that are in that program regard WASL testing as an illegitimate way to evaluate school or individual academic performance anyway. Since nobody is forced to enroll in an alternative program, then it is a reasonable conclusion that the families who are there are there by choice and are reasonably happy with it.

Regarding the suggestion of combining AE2, AS1 and Summit: AE2, AS1 and Summit are very distinct and independant programs, and just because they are all alternative does not even begin to imply that they are either the same or even compatible. Anybody who has even a small level of familiarity with how these programs actually work recognize that this idea is a non-starter.

Regarding the post about behavior of middle-school students: one of AS1's many strengths is that these sorts of behaviors are basically non-existent at AS1. AS1 parents are perhaps in a very small minority of parents in Seattle Public Schools who have elementary school children and are not worried about middle school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Roy brings up two good points. One, alternative school parents are a pretty committed bunch when it comes to their school. They "get" their school and thus feel very tied to its success. Two, many of the alternatives are K-8s which is something parents say they like and want more of in our district.

Anonymous said...

Behavior issues non existent at AS1???? Without behavior expectations there can be no behavior issues. When we went to tour AS1 I was shocked at what I saw. Kids wearing hoods and earphones in class, majority of middle schoolers with piercings and goth looking hair styles, middle schoolers with very bad attitude, teenagers making out in the hall, and a young boy (maybe 8 or 9) cursing like a sailor in the hall. It all seemed like the norm. Then there are no academic expectations to speak of, as the WASL is not counted. We toured one mixed grade class (grades 3-8 who all shared the same class) who collectively decided they didn't want to take math. This was perfectly OK with the principal, he explained that kids who had an interest in math could take it as an elective. And then there is the art wall of grafitti, defaming a public building, that was apparantly advocated by the school principal. Again, if there is no expectation to behave a certain way (IE don't grafitti on school property), then you probably don't have behavior issues.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with alternative schools in general, but, shouldn't they be expected to follow state stadards? How can a group of children "collectively decide" that they don't want to take math? Is that OK with the district, or does it slip under the radar, as they opt out of the WASL? I know it is your legal right to opt out of the WASL, but, I wonder if AS1 is hiding a lack of academics. My question is...is it fair to the children? Children who at 3rd grade decided they don't want to take math? Are they mature enough to make these types of very serious decisions? And how about that grafitti? What does that teach the kids? It's OK to trash public property if its art. How is that different from the graffiti we're seeing all over NE Seattle? It's counter culture.

Charlie Mas said...

I wonder if the folks at Summit wouldn't like to see their school move to a more central location.

I'm thinking of Lincoln. It is an ideal choice for an all-city draw thanks to its central location and great transportation access by I-5 or 99.

Of course Summit with an enrollment of 600 couldn't begin to fill Lincoln (capacity 1600), but perhaps they would be willing to share the space with the APP grades 4-8. The two programs could remain totally separate or they could share resources, classes and activities as much as they like.

Would this be acceptable to the Summit community?

Anonymous said...

Love it.

Roy Smith said...

If you don't like AS1, don't send your kids there.

As it is, families do choose to send their kids there, and the majority of parents of children who are there are very well educated. The parents care very deeply about the academic success of their children, and many are very heavily involved with the school (much more than in the typical elementary or middle school, or so I am told).

However, these parents also realize that overemphasizing standardized testing gets in the way of actual learning; hence, the high opt-out rate on the WASL. If parents thought their kids were being shortchanged academically, they would be opting out of AS1.

They also care deeply that their children learn how to think for themselves and learn responsibility, and the only way that this can happen is for the children to be given the opportunity to think for themselves, to take responsibility, and to make mistakes in an environment where a mistake isn't a disaster. This is the environment that AS1 provides.

"majority of middle schoolers with piercings and goth looking hair styles," -- maybe, though I haven't done a census. However, a hair style or a piercing does not constitute bad behavior. As a parent, I have never once had a student be discourteous to me. My wife and I have seen consistently good behavior from the students, whether in the classroom, on the playground, or on field trips.

Underlying much of the criticism of AS1 seems to be the idea that schools should suppress anything countercultural or that schools exist to train children to conformity. For those who feel this way, AS1 is definitely not the right place for you.