No one, not even Mr. Manhas, is blind to the dysfunction in Seattle Public Schools. Unfortunately, no one, particularly Mr. Manhas, has done much to address it. Perhaps they don't have any ideas about how to address it.
Well, I'm all about solutions. It's not enough to complain; one must also offer remedies. You may not think these remedies are any good; in which case I welcome opportunities for improvement. I don't know if anyone in a position to do so can or will take these ideas forward, but I will offer them anyway. Let no one suggest that these problems can never be solved.
IDEA #5 Promotion/non-promotion policy.
When I look around Seattle for examples of success in closing the academic achievement gap by bringing every student up to Standards I see a recurring theme. It isn't cultural competence. The schools that show success all set and maintain high expectations for all students. The Board already has policies that mandate this, but such a Policy would be unenforceable even if the Board had some means of enforcing Policies. What could the Board do to support setting and maintaining high expectations for all students?
One step would be to adopt and enforce tight promotion/non-promotion policies. Such policies already exist, but they are horribly obsolete. They reference assessments which are no longer administered and committees that no longer exist. Seattle Public Schools is supposed to be a Standards-based learning system. As such, a student should advance from the third grade to the fourth grade upon meeting the third grade academic expectations - not upon the last day of school in the third grade.
Whatever benchmarks are adopted, they should reflect the grade level expectations (such as elementary school progress reports), be easily discernable data (such as elementary school progress reports), and should provide the student and the student's family with ample advance notice of impending non-promotion (such as elementary school progress reports). Obviously, the progress reports will do well for elementary students.
The key, of course, would be to leave the determination of progress towards Standards to the teachers but to retain centrally the job of notification of promotion/non-promotion. The district would have to apply it to all grade levels starting with kindergarten.
The district appears to have already adopted a de facto policy on promotion/non-promotion in high schools: students advance to the next grade upon the completion of every five credits. A student who takes five years to complete their 20 credits just stays there at the school until they are done. It doesn't seem to make much difference because students are all persuing an individualized curriculum and classes routinely include students of multiple grade levels.
It is trickier in middle school. The students get letter grades which do not necessarily reflect progress towards Standards. But they can't just stay there until they complete their credits because may advance in some subjects and not in others.
This is when we address ourselves to what we will do for those students who do not meet the academic expectations at the end of the school year. While holding them back has not proven effective, neither has promoting them. We need a third choice.
I have, for some time now, advocated for a new program - separate from the regular classes - designed to quickly bring these students up to Standards and then return them to the general education program. This program would be extended, intensive, and enriched. I won't describe it again here. It is unclear to me if the Board can develop and introduce this sort of program or if that responsibility falls to the Superintendent. In either case, the focus of this idea is for the Board to support the District's efforts to set and maintain high expectations for all students by developing and implementing tight promotion/non-promotion policies.
So, what do you think? Would this innovation help close the academic achievement gap? Would it be worth the time, cost and effort? Could this idea be improved? Is there a better way to accomplish the same ends?