Tuesday, July 31, 2007

An Interview With Dr. Goodloe-Johnson

This interview appeared on July 18th in the Seattle Medium. Of note, this section about special education:

"Submersing herself into the realities that exist for others is nothing new to Goodloe-Johnson. Upon graduating from high school she was torn between going to school for psychology and teaching so she decided to participate in a summer work experience program — where she stayed in a mental institution for a weekend as she pretended to be a non-verbal, wheelchair-bound patient whose hands were bandaged because she supposedly had a history of hurting herself.

“At that time they still had institutions for youth who were mentally challenged,” recalled Goodloe-Johnson. “No one knew that you (the students who participated in the program) weren’t supposed to be there except for the head nurse.”

The experience wasn’t pleasant for her at the time, but the impact that it would have on her life and life’s work help set the stage for where she is today, as it motivated her to become a teacher and specialize in special education.

“It was an experience that I will never forget,” she said. “It made me want to teach students with special needs because I was so distraught at how people who didn’t have the capacity were treated just because of their lack of ability to participate like the rest of us kids.” "

And about AP and rigor:
"Goodloe-Johnson is a proponent of a rigorous academic curriculum and feels that all students should be challenged to meet high academic standards, and that the educational standards that are in place for advanced academic programs like AP should be the standard level of academic excellence that all students should strive for.

“I believe that all kids benefit from a high quality rigorous curriculum,” said Goodloe-Johson.

“If a student took an AP course and got a “C” in it and that same student took just a regular English course and got an “A” in it, they would be smarter and better challenged with a “C” from the AP course,” she added as she commented about some of the community concerns that quality academic programs and resources are not available throughout the district. “Chief Sealth doesn’t have any AP classes. I think that’s inappropriate, and I think we need to work to fix that!” "

And this example of her to-the-point talk:

"In her mind, principals need to be held accountable — they need to be aware of their school data, they need to be aware of their school performance, and in turn teachers need to be held accountable for performance targets for their students.

“When I used to be a high school principal, I used to have teachers complain that well (Johnny) just doesn’t have the skills or he’s lazy,” she recalled. “I said I’ll tell you what. How about if I pay you for only the kids that you’re successful with, does that change your thinking about what you do in the classroom. Well, quite frankly it did.” "

The Racial Tiebreaker Lawsuit (Let's Have This Be the Last Word)

Okay, I can tell by the Open Thread that there is a lot of simmering unhappiness over the racial tiebreaker lawsuit. What's done is done (but we also need to keep some institutional memory about this and not gloss over it in the future).

On the one hand, I admire those parents who brought the lawsuit. As a person who has personally stuck up for what she believes in, I get their passion. I think a lot of people who are education activists started out working for their children, got involved and it becomes a larger issue. I had a disagreement with how TAF handled their Rainier Beach outreach and the TAF founder, Trish Dziko, and I sat down and talked. Guess what? We had more in common and had more common ground than either of us thought. People of good faith do find ways to do that.

I do admire the parents for their passion and willingness to stick it out. However, I will point out a couple of things that still remain despite the outcome of the Supreme Court decision.

1. The District immediately stopped using the tiebreaker. They could have, legally, used it until a court told them they couldn't use. They didn't and maybe that was for legal reasons (likely) and/or they didn't want to make the situation escalate (also likely). So now, for years, the enrollment plan has operated without the tiebreaker.

2. Do you do feel race should be used in the assignment plan? Well, it just might be used in the future. Justice Kennedy's separate opinion, coupled with the dissenters, show that a carefully crafted enrollment plan could use race as one facet of it. The case outcome only said that the majority of the justices did not like the Seattle/Louisville plans. Is the District bright enough and/or brave enough to craft such a plan? My thought is no. I think the wind is out of their sails, they will have to pay a big price financially and I think people are sick of talking about it. This doesn't mean diversity isn't important but from the high school assignment thread I think a good solid school near home trumps it.

3. You might be upset over the money it is going to cost the district (and leave our classrooms). It's not the plaintiffs' fault that their lawyers have chosen to act like lawyers (meaning, they say one thing and do another; hey, I know lawyers, love talking law but I wasn't surprised at all when DWT decided to go for the money). It's a bitter pill but that's it.

4. QA/Magnolia STILL isn't happy. They got Center School (and I'm still searching for the op-eds in any newspaper or any news story in which QA/Magnolia parents told the District that Center School was not what they wanted). They got the use of the tiebreaker stopped almost immediately. They won their court case. My point is not that they are whiners; they clearly have a case. Again, the stupidest, dumbest mistake ever made in this district was creating that lease that led to the sale of QA High School. When you have a geographically challenged city like ours, you have to expect that certain areas (like Magnolia and West Seattle) will have to have a high school there because of the difficulties of transporting kids all over.

The bottom line on their unhappiness is they need someplace large and stable enough for their children to go. But, it needs to be understood that a brand-new high school is on the order of $100M before land costs. Charlie's right; it would make more sense to get this problem pointed towards a solution before remodeling Hale as frankly, it seems more important. It also would make creating a new assignment program easier if each area had a high school. Hale has a new football field, a new almost-$2M roof, computer upgrades and a new performing arts hall.

Charlie has offered some ideas. I laugh over the Lincoln idea (although it may come to pass) because I was unequivocally told by Facilities staff that "no can do" because it's "their" interim site. And, since they also told me they were committed to redoing every single high school site (but not Nova or Summit; somehow they don't count), Hale and Ingraham will be remodeled and where would they go? (Wilson-Pacific?)

QA/Magnolia cannot believe, however, that they are the only ones with problems. Eastlake residents, too, have virtually no reference elementary school. That's even worse at some level because those are younger students.

I said at the beginning of this post that I had started out advocating for what I wanted for my kids. That was a stronger Highly Capable program (better Spectrum with more consistency in its format and delivery system as well as accessibility). When I started attending Board meetings in the early '90s, I realized that there were people with a lot more problems than me. So my activism took a district-wide view (and I was just spinning my wheels for a better gifted program - again, no real champion for it within the district). My point is that it is easy to get caught up in your school, your neighborhood, your region. And it's okay if you don't have the time or the energy to think about the rest of the district.

BUT, it is the job of staff and the Board to think district-wide. There is a ripple effect in this district when decisions are made. Very little happens in a vacuum. If those two groups, when this lawsuit started, had thought about it carefully, they might have made better choices. They might not have poured millions into creating a 300-seat high school that is not made up largely with kids from one region. They might not have sought to rush to "do something" and stepped back, worked with those communities and found a better solution. So now, years later, what has either side really gotten done on this problem?

Nothing. And so we go back to the drawing board. Let's find solutions.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Seattle Center and District Holdings

I missed this interesting article from The Stranger in July. It's a discussion about what should be done with the Seattle Center. I particularly liked the comparisons of how much land there is versus other parks worldwide. Of particular note is how much the land at Memorial Stadium is worth (somewhere between $50-60M) . I'm not of a mind to sell it - it was created as a memorial and just because time passes it doesn't make it less so - but is it being used to its best i.e. lots of use and/or lots of profit for such a prime spot owned by the district? Because of the shortage of high school fields with stands, I believe it gets used a lot for high school football games in the fall and an occasional concert for Bumbershoot, etc. Any thought?

New Tool for SPS

This article appeared in today's Times. It's about a new on-line tool called L3RN:

"Similar to YouTube, the popular Internet video-sharing Web site, L3RN (pronounced simply "learn") is touted as a tool for professional development of teachers, allowing teachers in different schools to discuss ideas and upload lesson plans and other information.

But for students, it means they can comment on their peers' work and also show off their projects to their parents. According to Hale's Advanced Placement students, it also has proved to be a lot of fun."

Also from the article:

"Though many parts of L3RN are available to the public, at www.l3rn.com, only teachers can post to the site. They can designate certain files as private, so only other teachers and students can see them. To comment on students' work, visitors must have a login name and a password from the school district."

"The district gets the software free, and Hale estimates that L3RN saves thousands of dollars in paper.

"The less paper, the better," Hale said. "It's almost heartbreaking when I had students write an essay and watch them put it in the recycling bin on their way out of the door. This solves that problem."

"There is no anonymity on L3RN. Student comments are permanently attached to their online-user names. They cannot be changed or deleted by the student, so teens must think twice before posting something inappropriate or hurtful."

There's also another network tool, Medley:

This fall, the district plans to add to L3RN by introducing another online system called Medley, a social-networking site comparable to MySpace.

"Medley will allow students to have personal home pages. They can create online journals and send messages to their friends and teachers.

"It's great, because it's safer than a lot of the social Web sites that are out there," Pierson said. "Kids will feel secure on Medley because we'll manage it and make sure there's no bullying." "

I'm more on-board with the 3LRN than Medley. I like the idea of teachers sharing ideas as well as students sharing their work (although I hope there is a filter so that kids don't plagiarize).

I'm not sure I think it's worth the district's time and money to have Medley. Are kids really going to want to post to a site monitored by the district? Maybe younger students but I doubt if a lot of middle/high school students would (unless their parents wouldn't let them use FaceBook or MySpace). Frankly, why is the district getting into this business? It doesn't relate to academics.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

PI Endorses in Districts 2 and 6

The PI's endorsements for the primary races in Districts 2 and 6 appeared in Sunday's edition. (Since the other two races already have two challengers each, they don't endorse those races until the general election.)

They have endorsed Darlene Flynn and Sherry Carr for District 2 and Steve Sundquist and Maria Ramirez in District 6. After listening to all the candidates (who showed up) on KUOW and at the audio of the PI's interviews, I agree.

I had hoped Lisa Stuebing in District 2 would have been a stronger candidate. She is bright and has clearly thought a lot about issues and solutions but she is scattered in her reasoning and cannot stay focused on a question. It might be because she has so much she wants to say that she's trying to get everything out there at once. While I think Darlene is bright and knowledgable, she is also very hard on staff (the PI put it as "sometimes pointed in her questioning of staff") and is not accessible to parents as she had promised to be in the last election. (She was challenged on this point by District 2 challenger, Patrick Kelley, and pretty much ignored him. Mr. Kelley is also bright and has his heart in the right place but knows very little about the school district.)

In the race in District 6, both candidates are intelligent and know their stuff. In the PI interview, the candidates were asked about differences between them. Both these candidates were gracious in their views of each other and refrained from attacks. Rather Ms. Ramirez pointed out she had a lot of community-based experience and inter-city/county experience while Mr. Sundquist pointed out he had senior management experience. Those are important qualifications to bring to the table especially if you are looking for a Board that consists of people with a wide variety of experience. Given that each person is an individual, you still don't want to front-load the Board with people from only one type of background.

It's a good thing to get endorsements but it is no given that those candidates will prevail. IMHO people tend to get information from friends/relatives and take endorsements with a grain of salt.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Open Thread

As requested, an open thread post. Fire away, rant, question, give advice or speak your mind on any education-related topic.

A Brave Op-Ed in the PI

From the PI this morning, this op-ed by John Burbank, head of the Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle.
(From their website:
"The Economic Opportunity Institute develops new public policies to create ladders for low-income people to move into the middle class and to plug holes so that middle-class families do not fall into poverty. EOI is an activist, progressive, and majoritarian institute. We pursue our work through media outreach, public dialogue, and policy initiatives that address the shared economic security concerns of middle-class and low-income workers.")

The premise of his piece is basically that people who opt out of public schools are hurting the schools and cheating their children of the opportunity to interact with a more varied group of kids.

On the most basic level, he's right. Money walks out of schools when kids do. We wouldn't be closing schools if we had the student base for all the buildings we have.

He says:
"Parents sending their children to private schools say they are doing what is best for the kids. But placing a child in private school is not a value-free choice. If I send my daughter to private school, and my neighbor's son goes to public school, that reinforces a culture of separateness and privilege."

And later on:
"In the fight for public education, we need all hands on deck, especially the most privileged among us. We need the parents of the 14,000 children in Seattle's private schools. We must all connect the dots between personal responsibility and the greater good."

I've said this before but I believe about 5% are name-brand people (Lakeside, Bush, etc.), 5% may be religion-based, 5% may be homeschooled (for many reasons) and 5-10% are probably people who fled public schools for a variety of reasons. We could recapture the latter group with a reliable school district (stability, fair and easy-to-understand assignment plan, good programs, etc.).

I appreciate his candor and bravery for saying what he did out loud. (I expect a rash of "how dare you" letters to the editor.) But parents, in the end, have to make the best decisions they can for their children and if it's private school, I can't point a finger and say they are wrong. We need to get the parents who are in the system to want to participate in their child's school to make all schools stronger and we need to get our district on the right track to attract back parents.

Under the "Passionate, Lifelong Learner" Category

Tell your kids the guy who wrote "We Will Rock You" for the band Queen is getting his PhD in astrophysics. This great story from various news sources, this one Yahoo:

"After more than 30 years which he spent as a member of one of the world's most successful bands, Queen guitarist Brian May has finally finished his PhD thesis which he began as a student in the 1970s, The Times reported on Thursday.

May, 59, earned a degree in physics at Imperial College London but after years of studying interplanetary dust, he abandoned work towards his doctorate when Queen took off.

His interest in the subject was reignited when he co-authored "Bang! The Complete History of the Universe", which tells the story of the universe from the big bang through its subsequent evolution, and was released last year.

"For the last nine months, I've done nothing except slave over my PhD, which is now written up, thank God," May reportedly told students at a ceremony at Exeter University in southwest Britain when he received an honorary doctorate.

"But there are times when you really want to give up. There are times when you go, 'Why on earth did I take this on?'"

May worked on the PhD between 1971 and 1974, and kept all his hand-written notes on the subject through the years, finally discovering them in his loft recently."


Thursday, July 26, 2007

California Charter School Maverick

This was an interesting and provocative article in the NY Times this week. It's about Steve Barr, a charter school organizer in California who concentrates on high schools (which is the opposite of most charter school organizers).

From the article:

"In just seven years, Mr. Barr’s Green Dot Public Schools organization has founded 10 charter high schools and has won approval to open 10 more. Now, in his most aggressive challenge to the public school system, he is fighting to seize control of Locke Senior High, a gang-ridden school in Watts known as one of the city’s worst. A 15-year-old girl was killed by gunfire there in 2005.

In the process, Mr. Barr has fomented a teachers revolt against the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has driven a wedge through the city’s teachers union by welcoming organized labor — in contrast to other charter operators — and signing a contract with an upstart union. And he has mobilized thousands of black and Hispanic parents to demand better schools."

Later in the article:

"Green Dot organized a parents union, and its members, buttonholing neighbors in supermarkets and churches, collected 10,000 signatures endorsing Jefferson’s division into several smaller charter schools.

Mr. Barr marched from Jefferson High with nearly 1,000 parents to deliver the petition to district headquarters. The authorities refused to relinquish Jefferson, but the school board approved five new charters, which Green Dot inaugurated last fall, all near Jefferson and drawing students from it."

He organized a parents union? Now there's an idea. Not some nice little organization that comes pleading and hoping and wishing for a place at the table - no, he created a union. More to the point, he got people who traditionally don't get involved to be involved.

Study Says NCLB Cuts Time from Other Subjects

This article appeared in this week's NY Times. The basic premise of the study is this:

"The report, by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington group that studies the law’s implementation in school districts nationwide, said that about 44 percent of districts have cut time from one or more subjects or activities in elementary schools to extend time for longer daily math and reading lessons. Among the subjects or activities getting less attention since the law took effect in 2002 are science, social studies, art and music, gym, lunch and recess, the report said.

The report, based on a survey of nearly 350 of the nation’s 15,000 districts, said 62 percent of school districts had increased daily class time in reading and math since the law took effect."

Times Op-Ed on How Diversity Could Be Achieved

This op-ed appeared in today's Times. It offers some good starting points for a tiebreaker for diversity. I don't agree with the writer's idea of essays to get into high school. That could be a nightmare; who would read them? Score them? How to score them to achieve what the district is striving for?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dr Goodloe-Johnson to be on KUOW's The Conversation Today

From the KUOW website:

"Seattle's new school Superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, is in her third week on the job. What has she figured out? She is our guest for this hour of The Conversation. There is no shortage of people with ideas on what's wrong with Seattle public schools. Mayor Greg Nickels says every year the Seattle public schools lose 600 students to private schools or other districts. That's the equivalent of losing a large elementary school each year. We'll find out from Seattle School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson where and how she will start to improve the state's largest school district."

The Conversation is from 1:00-2:00 p.m. on 94.9 FM. They archive the show about an hour after it has aired so you can listen to it on your computer anytime.

Another Way to Listen to School Board Candidates

I was looking at the Editorial area at the PI's website and discovered they have the audio from their editorial board interviews with candidates in Districts 2 and 6 (I don't know if the other districts are upcoming). I haven't had time to listen to them but I just wanted to pass them along in case you don't get to any of the pre-primary forums.

Also, August 7th is Neighborhood Block party night. If any of you live in neighborhoods that participate, you might consider it a good time to talk with neighbors about the upcoming primary (many people might not realize it's happening). I find that many people welcome information on school board candidates because they either don't have kids in the district or don't keep up. (I'm like this on port commissioner and judges; I never quite know who to vote for beyond what's in the newspaper.)

Another Op-Ed in the Times about the Supreme Court Case?

What is up with the Times and their op-eds? This one by John Miller, one of the parents in the recent Supreme Court case, appeared in today's Times. This is the second one on this topic in 2 weeks. I'm thinking the parents in this case must be getting a lot of blowback from the outcome because why in the world is the Times pushing this? I'm guessing it's both blowback and an opening salvo to let the Board know they shouldn't try it again.

With Justice Kennedy's deciding vote (but his separate opinion), he left open the door to use of race in determining school assignment. His opinion said that he did not agree with the use as stated by the district and he laid out, vaguely, how it might be used. It is up to the District and the Board to decide, as they roll out the enrollment plan, what the tiebreakers might be. Do they dare try to use race again in a more tailored fashion (i.e. break out by every single race rather than the previous white versus non-white) or do they abandon it altogether and try income (but with the cautions found in my previous post of the NY Times article on its use elsewhere in the country)?

I could argue against each of Mr. Miller's points but I'll just choose one:

"The School Board plan not only didn't achieve diversity, but by labeling every student white or nonwhite, it did not recognize how truly racially diverse a city Seattle is."

He's right; Seattle is an incredibly diverse city....that lives in segregated neighborhoods (by history, by choice, by income, you name it). If you cut off any route to diversify the schools, you will have segregated schools. Mr. Miller claims that the racial differences without the use of the racial tiebreaker are minimal (define minimal) but, as I have stated before, I believe we are just on the tail end of the last of siblings whose older siblings were the original users of the tiebreaker. We'll see over the next couple of years.

I feel from our discussions on high school assignment that assignment trumps diversity in what people want. That is neither good or bad, it is just how it seems to line up. The one thing that can't work is the inequity of offerings at the high school level. Just as the parents in the court case didn't want to be "forced" to go to a school they didn't want, parents in the south end should not be given lame options to save money on transportation. You can't ask them to put sweat equity into building up a school if the district isn't going to put effort into the curriculum, principal, etc. I am going to have faith in Ms. Santorno when she says this is what the district will do.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Seattle Times Editorial

This Editorial appeared in today's Seattle Times.

The Times refers to the School Board "mess" even as they note the Board's recent successes. They particularly decry Board members who cannot "refrain from micromanaging the superintendent - or worse, attempting to do the job themselves"

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Math Wars (Continued)

This article about an outside math review for the state Board of Education was in the Times on Saturday. It does not bode well for students especially since the Board has approved the math curriculum.

From the article:

"Echoing concerns from a grass-roots parents group, Plattner also said Washington needs to be clearer about the need for students to memorize basic math facts and learn standard methods of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

"Washington's standards are too far on the conceptual side," she wrote."

From Superintendent Bergeson:

"Some of the recommendations of this new report, however, would increase the WASL's difficulty.

"If we move in the direction that this report wants to move in ... we're going to have a harder test," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson. "It's not going to solve the math-score problem overnight."

From the article:

"Plattner said Washington's standards, like many states, suffer from the widely discussed "mile wide, inch deep" syndrome, where teachers are expected to cover too many topics, without clear priorities. If teachers have a chance to teach fewer topics more deeply and completely, she said, then classes can be harder and students will learn more in less time."

"In the Seattle School District, administrators Michelle Corker-Curry and Rosalind Wise liked recommendations that Washington increase rigor in math and prioritize what's taught at each grade level.

But they questioned why Plattner didn't compare Washington with states with high math achievement, not just well-regarded standards. Washington, for example, scores higher than California in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP."

College Board to Police AP listings

Following up on the larger discussion of what a baseline curriculum would look like for a Seattle schools comprehensive high school, I saw this article about AP classes in the NY Times. The company that runs AP, College Board, is doing an audit of classes because of schools that invent AP classes (AP Ceramics?).

From the article:

“Schools just slap AP on courses to tag them as high-level, even when there’s no Advanced Placement exam in the subject,” Mr. Poch said. “It was getting to be like Kleenex or Xerox.”

But now, for the first time, the College Board is creating a list of classes each school is authorized to call AP and reviewing the syllabuses for those classes. The list, expected in November, is both an effort to protect the College Board brand and an attempt to ensure that Advanced Placement classes cover what college freshmen learn, so colleges can safely award credit to students who do well on AP exams."

A little background on AP (Advanced Placement):

"Developed 50 years ago for gifted students in elite high schools, the Advanced Placement program now exists in almost two-thirds of American high schools. In May, about 1.5 million students took 2.5 million Advanced Placement exams, hoping to earn college credit and impress college admissions offices, which often give applicants extra points on the transcript."

"As APs have spread, it has become clear that the name is no guarantee of rigor; an AP course at a wealthy suburban high school may be far more ambitious than one at a poor rural school. And in many struggling high schools, nearly all the students in Advanced Placement classes fail the exam."

"The exams given each May, for $83 apiece, are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with scores of 3 and up considered passing. But some colleges grant credit only for a 4 or a 5." "The Advanced Placement program is an odd hybrid of exam and coursework. Any student can take any exam, without taking an AP class. And some high schools have dropped AP classes, safe in knowing their students will still do well on AP exams." "Conversely, students who take AP classes need not take the AP exam. Some skip the exams because they know they will fail; others never planned to take the exam, enrolling in the class mostly to look good in the college admissions process."

I'm posting this because (1) many people do not seem to know what AP is and why it is important in a discussion of graduating students to be college-ready and (2) what is and isn't happening in Seattle schools with AP.

So why is it important? One, college admissions officers (look at any college admissions webpage) say they look for rigor and most times that comes in the form of AP or Honors classes. Two, studies have shown that students that attempt an AP class do better in college. Students who take an AP class and pass it do even better in college. Students who take an AP class AND pass the test do even better. This is the basis for why Bellevue School district is pushing every high school student to attempt an AP class. It just seems to be a good preparation for what students will get in college (as do taking Running Start classes).

Okay, so to review. You do NOT have to take an AP class to take an AP test. However, unless you are really getting rigorous coursework in a small class setting (a la Lakeside), it's going to be much more difficult for you to pass the test.

Every single high school in our district has its own AP rules. Meaning, some schools (Hale) don't like AP and are trying to phase it out. Some, like Roosevelt, have many AP courses but their LA department doesn't like it and so no AP English Lit or Language (two of the most popular AP courses in the country; the most popular is AP US History). Some say you have to have a certain grade point average to take it and others are open to any student who wants the challenge. Many say that a student HAS to take the AP test in order to take the AP class. (I think this is because AP requires special teacher training to teach the class.) However, I challenged this notion at Hale because the test costs $83. I asked if there were scholarships or a district way to defray this cost. They never gave me a straight answer ("possibly"). Well, think about it. Can a school really offer a class that has a cost to its outcome and not have some sort of free/reduced lunch aspect to it? This would virtually cut out low-income families and their students from enrolling.

The district, as usual with any topic about advanced learning, does not want to talk about this. But, again, if we are being asked to have our school choices narrowed then the district has to do its part in making sure that all students have options available to them in an equitable fashion.

School Board Candidate Forums

There are two upcoming forums to hear school board candidates. Here's the blurb for one of them:

On Monday, August 6, Pathfinder will be hosting a forum for the candidates for the Seattle School Board. We have 8 candidates who have confirmed attendance. This should be a terrific opportunity to meet the candidates before the August 21 primary. The evening will begin at 5:30 with an old fashioned ice cream social where the public will be able to meet the candidates one to one. At 6:30 each candidate will have three minutes to present their views after which the moderator will ask questions submitted by the audience. Families are encouraged to bring a blanket and picnic dinner. Complimentary ice cream bars will be served. The event is jointly sponsored by your PTSA, Alki School PTSA, Sanislo PTSA, and Arbor Heights PTSA.

Thank you to those PTSAs for their work on this event.

The other one is this:

Primary Election Debate, Seattle School Board, Thursday, August 16, 2007
Registration: 11:30 a.m. www.seattlecityclub.org Luncheon Program: 12:00 - 1:30
Have the state of Seattle’s public schools been on your mind? Wondering who to vote for in upcoming the School Board race? With the storm surrounding the closure of seven school buildings and a new Superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson of South Carolina, this election is sure to be interesting! CityClub is hosting a debate for Director Districts 1, 2 and 3. What does each candidate see as the top priorities? Will a newly elected board be able to find less controversial ways to save money? Come get the scoop on these competitive seats and pose your questions directly to the candidates. This event is a brown bag lunch – beverages and dessert provided!

The last one is odd because it doesn't include the District 6 candidates. I'm not sure why; I'll call tomorrow and ask. Maybe they just don't feel they would have enough time with so many candidates.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Times story on Dr. Goodloe-Johnson

I read the story in today's Seattle Times on the new Superintendent of Seattle Pubilc Schools, Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, and two things jumped out at me right away.

First, there is no news in this "news" story. The reporter interviewed the Superintendent, but she didn't say anything she hadn't said before. There were no announcements, no change in anything.

Second, the message came through, loud and clear, that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has little patience for the "Seattle Process". From the article:
"Goodloe-Johnson said she would have little patience for the "Seattle process," shorthand for the inclusive -- but often slow -- way of doing public business."

I think that the recent experience we had with the Student Assignment Plan showed, without a doubt, that genuine, inclusive public engagement can be done and that it can be done easily, quickly, efficiently, and effectively. My view of the "Seattle Process" is mainly public hearings that are neither public nor heard. We don't need any more of the asynchronous monologues like we had with closures; we need real dialog like we have had over student assignment.

Perhaps Dr. Goodloe-Johnson thinks, as a lot of people within the central staff at Seattle Public Schools think, that public input is difficult if not impossible, that it is slow, that it doesn't provide good data, and that people have unreasonable expectations for how it will alter decisions. If that's the case, then she is as wrong as they are. The public input over student assignment has proven it. Yes, the way they conducted public engagement before was all those things, but everyone agreed that they were doing it wrong. When you do it right, the results are good for everyone.

The article was in the Times, so of course it took a swipe at the Board, saying that they struggled over which schools to close. I don't think that's an accurate characterization. They were presented with a motion and they passed it by a strong majority of 5 to 2. I think other people struggled over identifying the schools to close, but I can't say that the Board did.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

CPPS looking for discussion group

CPPS is building a study group to further analyze the Student Assignment Plan framework and possible consequences of implementation. After working together to create a list of questions and concerns, this group would then take the list to the District for further clarification, etc. Depending on the answers from the District, the process could be repeated once more before the details are made public later this fall.

CPPS is currently seeking public school parents who have been following the issue and would have interest in coming together with others. The group would have at least two meetings (two hours each) and extensive conversation via e-mail.

I have been asked to recommend some names of parents who may be interested.

Are there any among you who have some time in the next few weeks to delve deeply and look for the intricacies of this most important policy? If so, send me your name and I will forward them to CPPS for consideration.

I'm thinking of putting my own name forward, but I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea of this group of people having some kind of special access and influence that others don't have. I'm not sure how or why that works. I will try to learn more.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pay to Play for Athletics

I knew this was looming for Seattle high schools but this article in the Times shows it is spreading rapidly throughout our area. I guess it's a sign of the times. We have a lot of sports, they cost money (in transportation, coaches, uniforms, etc.). It also becomes an issue like the drama differences between high schools (Roosevelt versus Rainier Beach, for example). Many schools have sports booster clubs and it is likely there are big money differences between schools (and probably between sports as well). I know that the Seattle high school principals voted to return to the Metro league (versus King-Co) because of the issue of transportation costs but that's the last I heard.

The Roosevelt PTSA is going to try to set up a scholarship fund for free/reduced lunch athletes so that any student who wants to participate in sports can do so. I know this is not probably not going to happen everywhere and it seems sad that some kids may not be able to participate. I know at Roosevelt (like some of the other schools in the article), athletes had to purchase an ASB (associated student body) card to participate. I wonder if the fee means that purchase is no longer required.

A Lively Discussion

Between the using income for diversity thread and the assignment plan thread, we certainly have had a lively conversation. We can all see that there are some resentments, misunderstandings and general lack of knowledge/information out there. I think we can all agree that when you are talking about your child's education and access to educational benefits it is a deeply heartfelt and personal conversation. (By the way, by lack of knowledge I don't mean that in a disparaging manner. It is difficult to keep up with everything, no one can possibly know everything about each school and high school can seem far away when your children are in elementary.) Keep in mind; School Board Directors HAVE to take a district view and so their view is wide-ranging and has to keep a sort of "greater good" and fairness emphasis (regional differences are naturally part of the discussion to be sure).

As I said, I think I'll send e-mail to the Board and the Superintendent alerting them to our discussions. I think there is a wide range of concerns from many areas of the city and it might be useful for them to read them when making their considerations. We already know that Brita Butler-Wall reads this blog and I know that Michael de Bell makes an effort to as well.

Someone had suggested that we get to elementary/middle school enrollments since they are the most likely to get changed. I think, in some ways, we can see similar problems from the elementary to middle school path in some areas. Eckstein is always overcrowded and it will be interesting to see, if a neighborhood enrollment plan is selected, what outcome a new Hamilton building will have. Hamilton will already have set-aside seats for John Stanford kids enrolling in the language program, Spectrum seats and, by then, possibly APP seats. I know the building is being built for 900-1000 so I wonder how it will play out in additional seats in the NE.

I note that some discussion has been around the rising enrollments in elementary in the NE. I did try to point out earlier in the year that maybe a couple of elementaries might have been put on the BEX III list (like McGilvra or Laurelhurst or Rodgers) but it didn't happen. Someone mentioned that there might be new elementary buildings in the NE by 2030 (I'd call it about 2017-20) but, as was also said, it may be too late by then if the demographics play out as they have been. That or we go to more portables at more schools. (Some noted that they don't care about portables as long as capacity was there. The problem is that portables become permanentables. Eckstein has had theirs for years (probably decades). They are cold or hot and drafty. Safety (in these times) is a real issue as it is difficult to set up good communications between portables and the main building. Also, the multiple lunch hours are a real problem. Be careful what you wish for.)

So what are the concerns for a neighborhood plan for elementary and middle schools?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Let's All Read?

Two articles in the NY Times caught my eye, both dealing with reading. One is about a library phasing out the Dewey Decimal system in favor of bookstore-type headings (Fiction, Religion, Cooking, etc.). The other was an article on Harry Potter books and kids' feelings about reading.

From the Harry Potter article:

“Unless there are scaffolds in place for kids — an enthusiastic adult saying, ‘Here’s the next one’ — it’s not going to happen,” said Nancie Atwell, the author of “The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers” and a teacher in Edgecomb, Me. “And in way too many American classrooms it’s not happening.” "

"In a study commissioned last year by Scholastic, Yankelovich, a market research firm, reported that 51 percent of the 500 kids aged 5 to 17 polled said they did not read books for fun before they started reading the series. A little over three-quarters of them said Harry Potter had made them interested in reading other books."

"But creating a habit of reading is a continuous battle with kids who are saturated with other options. During a recent sixth-grade English class at the John W. McCormack Middle School in the Dorchester section of Boston, Aaron Forde, a cherubic 12-year-old, said he loved playing soccer, basketball and football. On top of that, he spends four hours a day chatting with friends on MySpace.com, the social networking site.

He had read the first three Harry Potter books, but said he had no particular interest in reading more. “I don’t like to read that much,” he said. “I think there are better things to do.”"

From the library article:

"It was Harry Courtright, director of the 15-branch Maricopa County Library District, who came up with the idea of a Dewey-less library. The plan took root two years ago after annual surveys of the district’s constituency found that most people came to browse, without a specific title in mind."

"Further, though the branch is part of a new high school, the atmosphere is not of a kind generally associated with much research. At its center are not books, or computers, or even a reference desk, but rather a cluster of pastel-colored couches and chairs. And while even chain bookstores still put out classics like “Jane Eyre,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Moby Dick” for summer display, at Perry such books have taken a back seat to Paris Hilton’s “Confessions of an Heiress,” a children’s book by the New York Yankee catcher Jorge Posada and Chris Gardner’s “Pursuit of Happyness.”"

These got me to thinking about my kids and kids in general. My sons grew up avid readers. My oldest read when he was 3 and a half (I didn't teach him, he just started reading) and his brother loved to be read to (but started reading at the end of first grade which is probably typical). I had to read the first 4 Harry Potters to them aloud (raise your hand if you've read one of these books aloud; all those voices and the length! It gives me appreciation for people who do it for a living.). I felt that my husband and I had set them on a good path.

Don't get me wrong; they still read. But I'm not seeing them as engrossed as they were before. The other distractions of 2007 are there; tv, computer, video games, friends, movies, etc. I feel it a struggle to keep them reading (even as their father and I read constantly).

Then I see these articles and start to worry about reading life after Harry Potter ends (will Paul Simon starting singing, "Where have you gone, JK Rowling? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you." After we turn the libraries into Barnes and Noble. About the casual way we are thinking of libraries as drop-in spots to drink coffee and browse books. I don't want to go back to the hushed days and shushing librarians but are these two articles a worrisome trend?

Using Income to Create Diversity in Schools

This is an excellent article from the NY Times about different applications of income in enrollment in different districts around the country. It focuses primarily on San Francisco which uses income as one factor.

"The number of schools where students of a single racial or ethnic group make up 60 percent or more of the population in at least one grade is increasing sharply. In 2005-06, about 50 schools were segregated using that standard as measured by a court-appointed monitor. That was up from 30 schools in the 2001-02 school year, the year before the change, according to court filings."

"Only a few plans appear to have achieved all three goals. Others promote income diversity but not racial integration while still other plans are limited and their results inconclusive. Those who have studied them say a key to that outcome is how aggressively a plan shifts students around and whether there are many schools that can lure middle-class students from their neighborhoods into poor ones."

A district that offers good results but a lot of moving kids around is Raleigh, N.C.:

"The most ambitious effort and the example most often cited as a success is in the city of Raleigh, N.C., and its suburbs. For seven years the district has sought to cap the proportion of low-income students in each of the county’s 143 schools at 40 percent.

To achieve a balance of low- and middle-income children, the district encourages and sometimes requires students to attend schools far from home. Suburban students are attracted to magnet schools in the city; children from the inner city are sometimes bused to middle-class schools at the outer edges of Raleigh and in the suburbs.

The achievement gains have been sharp, and school officials said economic integration was largely responsible. Only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight in Wake County, where Raleigh is located, scored at grade level on state reading tests in 1995. By the spring of 2006, 82 percent did."

I'll try to pass this article on to the Board so that they might get an idea of what has been tried and the outcomes.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Assignment Plan

Okay, from the high school thread (and Charlie's summations along the thread), it would seem to me that the district really isn't in a good position to change the high school enrollment plan. The discussion here seems to indicate that we believe are the main issues:

- all the high schools are not equal (clearly in quality) but also not equal just in a baseline offering of what a basic comprehensive high school should offer including AP and Honors.
-QA/Magnolia and the NE have high school distribution problems that are problematic.
-arts, particularly music and drama matter to families and we have unevenness in programs.

Solutions:
-Carla Santorno and staff develop a baseline for the comprehensive high schools so that parents can be assured of access for their students to similiar offerings.
- What would work best? Community meetings to get as many ideas as possible? Having directors get input from their districts? It also likely depends on how many students are in each area (and, if Roosevelt is any example, maybe sticking in a -5+ percent if we do get back private school students) and how many each school can hold.
-The district could develop a district program to have schools with good drama/music programs give some leadership/mentorship to struggling programs. Perhaps have a drama closet where schools share costumes so each new production doesn't have to make everything from scratch. Basically, help the struggling schools get on their feet so they can provide what seems to be a shared value.

According to the Student Assignment page, one of the Next Steps is to develop a proposed timeline for implementing any new plan. (This document also has, at the end, details about the SE Intiative.

"The results of this more detailed work will be brought back to the Board for review and
action in Fall 2007, with initial implementation steps in place for Fall 2008."

This Fall 2008 time has been mentioned many times so I have to believe that staff and the Board want to start then. But they do say "initial implementation steps" so I would hope that they would consider doing it in steps if necessary.

My point is, from our discussions, it sounds like we feel the District has a lot to do to get some high schools up to a baseline (and beyond) and that parents would be opposed to ending our current high school enrollment plan because of that. Is that the general concensus or did I read this wrong?

Friday, July 13, 2007

One More Viewpoint on the Racial Tiebreaker

This op-ed piece was in today's PI. It's by Scott Barnhart, former School Board member.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

High School Assignment

So let's have the conversation about high school assignment.

Let's see if we can find a balance between reliable access to a nearby school and equitable access to desirable programs.

I think I've described my thoughts on this fairly well, but I'll spell out the six basic elements of the framework again to provide a starting point.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

1. For each of the ten traditional comprehensive high schools, the District will identify a reference area. All of the students in this reference area will be assured of access to the general education program of that high school.

2. The reference area for each school will be right-sized for the capacity of the general education program at the school.

3. The District will determine the program placement for special needs programs: Special Ed, Bilingual Ed, Secondary BOC, re-entry programs, and APP.

4. Access to alternative high schools and to specialized courses of study within schools - CTE programs for the most part, but also IB - will be by Choice. Various tie-breakers would apply.

5. Access to the general education programs at other traditional comprehensive high schools would be on a space-available basis. Various tie-breakers would apply.

6. Families interested in any assignment other than the general education program at their reference area school would list their assignment preferences. Regardless of any choices, the family would always retain the option of their reference area school's general education program.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Presuming that the District has the necessary capacity to implement such a plan, is there anyone who could not find such a plan acceptable? If so, how would the plan have to be altered to make it acceptable? It isn't enough to complain about the suggestions - you have to propose a solution. It doesn't have to be a good solution, but you have to propose something.

Let me add these qualifiers:

A. This plan presumes that every school provides some baseline minimal set of courses from remedial to advanced and across disciplines.

B. It is possible that Cleveland High School would have to add a general education program to the three specialized academies there. Alternatively, it is possible that Cleveland would not have any general education program or reference area.

C. This plan may require the creation of additional high school capacity. It isn't necessary to identify buildings at this stage, but be assured that there are appropriate buildings which can be pressed into service.

D. The tie-breakers for access to specialized programs do not need to be the same tie-breakers for access to general education programs.

E. Students who leave the specialized courses of study within a school - IB or a CTE academy - would lose their assignment to that building and either make another choice or accept assignment to their reference area school's general education program. Program administrators would be responsible for policing this.

Last Night's School Board Meeting

I stayed for about half the SB meeting last night and heard all the speakers as well as Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's Entry plan and SB committee updates. There were about 100 people at the meeting, 1 (that I saw) SB candidate, Dan Dempsey, and about 40 of the 100 were young adults protesting the SB military recruitment policy.

Despite what the PI wrote, the SB meeting last night was not "disrupted" by the student activists. The students were organized out front, marching in chanting at 5:55 p.m., sat down and were quiet except to do a two-line chant between speakers. Were they loud? Yes, but they are protesting a war and a district policy about recruiting soldiers for the war. They dominated the speaker list. Sadly, no one outlined their policy (even though Dr. Goodloe-Johnson clearly had never heard it this being her first meeting). Their policy, I believe, would call for one district-wide fair for all career/technical schools, colleges/universities and military recruitment. They say it would allow access to more opportunities for more kids as the attendance of these recruiters varies from high school to high school. (Military recruiters barely visit north end schools and are a heavy presence in south end schools while college/universities tend to visit the more academic heavy-weights.) They say this would meet the requirement under NCLB for schools to allow access to military recruiters.

Note: this is not to put down military service, it is an honorable career choice and, for some, allows them opportunities they might not otherwise have. However, in the midst of a problematic, dead-end war, these young adults have a right to stand up and question high- pressure recruiting in the schools.

The PTSA President at AAA came and said they were still unhappy about the SB not trying to bring TAF into AAA. From her remarks it seems that their community feels that AAA could be helped by the program. She also claimed that she has a videotape of Raj and Carla being dismissive of their concerns. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson also got to hear from regulars Don Alexander, Chris Jackins and Omari Tahir (if you know who they are, you'll know what they likely said).

Cheryl Chow welcomed Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and thanked Mark Green for his years of service.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was very attentive to all the speakers (myself included). I was unhappy to see some people talking as she began. (This is a real problem at Board meetings. If you have a large group with one concern - like the military recruitment group - they get done and think they can talk. There also seems to be a cultural assumption in some groups that they need to say something under their breath at every remark or to carry on side conversations. It is really distracting and, of course, discourteous to the speakers. I was surprised to see the head of a major parent group doing this.)

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was professional and organized. She had a brief Powerpoint of her entry plan which is basically a get the lay of the land plan with her focus for each area. Some of them were listening and learning, purpose, media, school board, district senior staff, students and schools, political leadership, community leaders, and national education. I tried to write down the plan but she really sped through it. The Board seemed happy with it.

I was impressed. She was friendly without being sugary. It was a good start.

Carla's report was delivered by Glenda Morgan who spoke about the summer school enrollment numbers. The district invited 1900 2,3 and 5th graders and predicted between a 15-20% non-enrollment. It's 40%, 30% and 42% for each grade level. They called every family that did not enroll/respond to ask why not. The only major reason given was that many people did not understand that they could get transportation to and from daycare and use their daycare address to attend a school close by. They recruited 3,000 high school students and got a 37.2% non-enrollment rate.

Math Wars; Eastside

This article appeared in today's Times. It's old-school math versus the conceptual math, Singapore versus Everyday Math. What's interesting on the Eastside is that people are running for school boards because of the issue. The only Seattle SB candidate that mentions it is Dan Dempsey, running in West Seattle.

Rebuttal to the Times

Over the past four years, the Seattle Times has published a steady stream of negative editorials disparaging the current Seattle School Board. This is the same Seattle Times that provided unstinting support for the previous Board. The Times has dismissed the Board members as "a barrier to progress", "ineffective", "misguided", "myopic", "incompetent", and "divisive". The Times called for five of the seven to resign. But what is the Board’s actual record?

The District’s finances are much better today than they were four years ago. This Board has turned the $35 million deficit left by the previous Board (the one the Times supported) into a $25 million surplus. For the first time, the District’s operating budget reflects the District’s academic priorities. This Board is moving the District away from the Weighted Student Formula, which was overly complicated and ineffective in its stated purpose, to a Weighted Staffing Formula that assures each school has the necessary resources. This Board is redirecting money into classrooms by moving high school students from yellow bus service to METRO. This Board redirected money into classrooms through the painful exercise of closing schools.

Under this Board, Seattle voters have passed every District levy and bond issue before them. The state legislature has increased funding for public schools and has put the simple majority vote on the ballot.

The District’s academics are notably improved over four years ago. Test scores are up and they are above the state averages – quite a boast for an urban district with language, diversity, and special education challenges unlike those at any other district in the State. This Board increased funding for high schools to six periods per day. Under this Board the District staff will intervene at failing schools earlier and more aggressively than ever before.

This Board has successfully conducted a national search and has hired a qualified Superintendent, something the previous Board proved unable to do. The District senior staff is more qualified and professional than any in recent memory. The District has enjoyed and benefited from excellent labor relations under this Board.

The Board is revising the Student Assignment Plan in a way that will strike a better balance between the call for reliable assignment to a nearby school with equitable access to desirable programs. The work they have done so far on this effort is outstanding and may bring a lot of families back to our public schools. The Board is revising and updating obsolete policies and writing new policies where they are needed.

More than anything else, this Board is leading the District through a change in culture to one which is more open, honest, transparent, engaged, and accountable. Communication with the public has never been better. Culture change is hard and slow, but this one is absolutely necessary.

The Board has a duty to guide and oversee the District. They have fulfilled that role much better than the rubber-stamp Board the Times supported four years ago. The Seattle Times can complain about the personal style of some of the Board members, but there can be no disputing their record of achievement. Seattle Public Schools is significantly better off today than it was four years ago. All of that improvement has come with this Board.

District 6 candidates on Weekday

Thursday on Weekday: Hour Two
07/12/2007 10:00a.m.

Elections: Seattle School Board District 6

Archive available at 11:05 a.m.

There are four candidates vying for Irene Stewart's vacated seat on the Seattle School Board, District 6, which covers West Seattle. Today we will speak with the candidates, as Weekday's election coverage continues.
Tomorrow on Weekday: Your Take on News

Guests:
Danaher Dempsey Jr., candidate
Maria Ramirez, candidate
Steve Sundquist, candidate
Edwin Fruit, candidate

Call the live studio
(206) 543-KUOW
(800) 289-KUOW

Email the show: weekday-at-kuow.org

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Money in the Right Places

A basic article in today's PI about the state of the District's finances. Not in the red, has a rainy day surplus (which some want to point to as the big lie that "see, we do have money, we don't need to close schools") and that the state needs to provide more stable funding or SPS (and nearly all other districts in the state) will have budget shortfalls in the coming years. Not much new but then there's this line:

"This year's budget cycle marked the first time academic priorities were considered when the operating budget was developed."

Charlie has said many times that academics should be the primary issue driving spending and not all the other issues that face the district. An admission that this is the first time that academic priorities were "considered" for the operating budget is kind of breathtaking. Let's hope it remains a priority in the budget.

Holy iPod, Batman!

Attention WASL takers: did you fail the 10th grade WASL reading or math? SPS has an iPod shuffle for you. No kidding, according to this article in today's Times. You have to spend 5 weeks in a WASL summer prep program. This is a joint project with SPS and Seattle Community Colleges but the city is paying for the reading iPods, a donor is paying for the math iPod. (Call 252-0815 by the end of today to register and get one.) Apparently fewer students were signing up for this program (which existed before but not with iPods).

From the article:

"The programs, called Summer College, are designed to help students pass the WASL and to give them the chance to experience college life. One program focuses on math, with one-on-one tutoring available to students who scored very low on the math WASL. The other is for students who failed math or reading on the 10th-grade WASL, and includes classes in literacy, math, and enrichment courses. They are offered at North Seattle and South Seattle community colleges. Lunch and a free Metro bus pass are included."

I don't really know what to think. You could say, "Anything that gets them to study and gives them an opportunity to see college life is a good thing." The other side could say, "You're paying some kids to study but kids who studied and passed get a pat on the head." But this is what it comes to when you make the test the centerpiece of graduation and desperation sets in.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

NY Times Editorial

Interesting editorial from the NY Times on smaller high schools and their outcomes in NYC. I wonder how comprehensive (electives, sports, etc) they are.

New Method to Consider Progress

This article appeared in the NY Times. The premise is that if you use a "growth model", it will track student progress from grade to grade rather than comparing last year's 4th graders to this year's 4th graders.

NCLB is allowing several states to pilot the program. "Adding growth models as a way to satisfy federal requirements to demonstrate “adequate yearly progress” could make it easier for some schools to avoid penalties because they would receive credit for students who improve performance but still fall below proficiency levels."

From the article:

"Many urban educators contend that growth models are a fairer measure because they recognize that poor and minority students often start out behind, and thus have more to learn to reach state standards. At the same time, many school officials in affluent suburbs favor growth models because they evaluate students at all levels rather than focusing on lifting those at the bottom, thereby helping to justify instruction costs to parents and school boards at a time of shrinking budgets."

There were some interesting points made:
"Cohoes school officials have spent more than $1 million on programs for their most struggling students in the past five years, and wanted to find out how much they had progressed. They learned that the lowest-level students were doing fine, while their high achievers were starting to fall behind."

This speaks to a point Charlie has made in the past:
“The fact is we serve all students, and not just the lower-end students,” said Mr. Dedrick, who travels across the state to speak about growth models to school superintendents. “If you’re just concentrating on one group of kids, it’s not fair because both sets of parents pay taxes.”

"In Ardsley, N.Y., a Westchester County suburb, administrators intend to place more special education students in regular classes after seeing their standardized test scores rise in the last year."

Teachers' views:
"But as growth models become more widespread, some teachers and parents have complained that they are hard to understand and place too much focus on test scores. Teachers’ unions, even while supporting the concept, have protested the use of growth models for performance reviews and merit pay."

Student Learning Committee agenda

The Student Learning Committee will meet this afternoon and, according to their agenda, they will have a preliminary discussion on forming a program placement policy.

The District does not have a program placement policy right now. Instead, program placements are made entirely at the Superintendent's discretion, so long as they comply with District policies, state laws, and federal laws.

Due to their interpretation of a Policy, the Board Student Learning Committee reviewed a program placement decision this year and discovered that the program placement process is capricious, thoughtless, careless, and politically driven. The decision was made without data, without considering the best interests of the students, and without considering public input. Everyone was pretty shocked by what they found squiggling under that rock.

Monday, July 09, 2007

PI Editorial on Super plus reminders

This editorial on Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's appearance in the district was in today's PI. Don't forget to read the comments after the editorial, they're interesting and one Board candidate weighs in.

Just to remind you, Wednesday's Board meeting will be the first one with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. It starts at 6 pm at the Stanford Center and also shows live on Channel 26.

Also, KUOW's Weekday program will have the SB candidates from District 6 (Irene Stewart's district) on during the 10-11 am segment. You can also listen to the discussion online after the show at kuow.org. They archive their shows.

Whither the Alliance, Part II

This article appeared in today's Times. Many only know the Alliance as a conduit for their donations to their school.

The Alliance's profile has been much lower since about 2003/4. It's a bit mind-blowing to know that there has been $100M raised by and pumped into SPS by the Alliance since 1995.

The Alliance's take on the situation:

"But as time has gone by, more donors have wanted to target their money at specific programs or schools — sometimes even specific purchases — rather than let the alliance choose how to spend it.

Board Chairman Jon Bridge, co-CEO and general counsel for Ben Bridge Jeweler, said the alliance should be more focused. Small donations for equipment and field trips should fall to other nonprofits, he said. The alliance should give money only to programs with specific goals.

"Let people trust us in earmarking those funds in a direction instead of telling us that we're going to have to spend it on athletic gear or ... on the PTA social that's down the block or something else," he said. "We can't be everything to everybody." "

Darlene Flynn's:

"But School Board Vice President Darlene Flynn said that for too long, the alliance had too much influence over district programs. The district, not the alliance, should have shown more leadership on which academic initiatives to take on."

Pat Wasley, Dean of Education, UW (who made this same claim at the Town Hall Forum):

"Patricia Wasley, the dean of the University of Washington's College of Education, left the alliance board out of frustration several months ago. She didn't feel the alliance was holding the district accountable for all of the programs it funded.

"I felt like the alliance, during my tenure there — which wasn't very long — was really focused on raising resources but didn't have the shared policy mission of holding their feet to the fire," she said."

It seems like the Alliance needs to define itself. Is it raising money to support certain programs or giving money that the district directs? Should it have any role in the direction the district takes or "holding its feet to the fire" (that was also noted during the discussions around the City's Families and Education levy)? Is it part of their role, as community leaders, to act as cheerleaders and/or support the district leadership during tough times? Would it have made a difference during school closures or the superintendent search if the Alliance had shown public support for the district's direction?




Sunday, July 08, 2007

Say What?

This editorial appeared in today's Sunday Times under the title, "On the Corner of Indifference and Ignorance". I believe he is saying that he doesn't think the people running for City Council and School Board are qualified enough. He's disappointed. I say "believe" because he seems so peeved, it's hard to be sure. What he says on who runs the city:

"The city is run by representatives of two major and influential cohorts: neighborhoods and highly specialized interest groups. That may fit a less-competitive era, but if this region is going to need every brain and every molecule of stamina, it must have a much higher caliber of contestants for public office."

I don't want to argue with him about whether that is correct for the City Council but it is somewhat true for School Board. And rightly so. Board members have to know neighborhoods; it's an intimate job in that way. I'm not sure I believe interest groups run the District; they certainly have a face here but I don't see any one group dominating the district.

I get what he is saying; we are a big city now and with the world getting smaller, our strategic location on the NW coast, the plethora of issues facing a big city, etc., we need people who can see the big picture. But you can't lose sight of the fact that this city is inhabited by people. Our leaders can't ever leave the day-to-day real life issues out of their thinking.

I had to smile when he talks about how knowledgable Senator Murray is in trade issues. I recall many who laughed and called her a mom in tennis shoes when she ran. People with talent and passion and good common sense can rise to the challenge. Most congressmen and women specialize in an area. It is a rare political leader who can know everything about 15 different issues.

Here's what he said about the School Board elections:

"Take schools. Instead of governing the most imaginative and self-guided of urban school districts, every board candidate appeals to the most-threatened coterie of voters. A new Seattle school superintendent will arrive Monday, perhaps to improve the district — we simply don't know.

Arguably the most important public appointment this year, the new superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, is almost unknown to those outside the two cohorts public officials value most."

Self-guided? What school district is self-guided? You don't just put programs in place and hit autopilot.

"Every board candidate appeals to the most-threatened coterie of voters". Who and what is he talking about? Seriously, I don't understand. Example: Steve Sundquist is appealing to what most-threatened of voters?

Of course Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is not widely known. Most superintendents in big urban districts are not well-known to people who don't have school-aged children.

If he's not happy with who's running maybe it's because the Times makes the jobs and the current occupants of those seats sound so bad that the very people he might want to run won't consider it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

More Program Decisions through Less Choice?

I had an interesting discussion with a SB candidate recently (I can't say who as I have not yet heard back about blogging about our discussion. I told this person I do blog but I did forget to say that I would likely blog about our discussion and my impressions. It seems bad form to not at least let the person know).

This candidate is clearly in the de Bell camp of pulling back on choice and going with feeder options. I mentioned I could see this in light of the transportation costs but that I still thought that high school should be an open option. (And I know many of you believe that to be a farce because it is unlikely that many could get into certain schools if they are not in that region. Agreed but it doesn't hurt to try.) Or if not an open option, that there would be a lottery for the Ballard biotech program and/or IB programs (at Sealth and Ingraham should they become oversubscribed) as well as an audition process for the jazz bands at Roosevelt and Garfield. (This is a question to ask those schools' music directors: what would you forsee happening to your jazz program if you could only have kids from the region that your school sits in? How many kids currently in your program come from outside the region your school is in?)

This candidate didn't agree, saying that schools won't get their own strong programs if there was a continued fight over getting into a few schools. I get that and I suggested a 4-year program of lottery/auditions while other schools ramp up their efforts. That was rejected.

The problem is that, at least for things like drama and music, the district/school isn't the driver. You have to have a good-to-great director of the program and parents who will work like the devil to make it happen. A few good souls won't do it. (For something like the biotech program, it's up to the district to either make it happen elsewhere or allow a lottery.) Can we count on parents to step up if they are shut out of programs? How long does it take to get excellence and would it be okay to be in a lesser music/drama program if your child was happy?

Lastly, I said, "Well, if you want to restrict choice and tell parents 'you have these limited choices' would it not follow that the district, in order to appease parents who are worried/unhappy with their choices, would have to listen to parents in terms of what they want to see in programming at their local schools?" The candidate said, well, sure but I wasn't sure that was a complete answer.

If you are willing to give on choice, then you need to ask every candidate if they understand what it means on the district's end. If the district enacts a feeder plan and then shrugs when parents put pressure on them for what the parents want to see locally, then you'll have a lot of unhappy people. The current Board is the likely one to put forth this plan (Brita, is the current Board planning to finish the enrollment plan before November?) but that shouldn't stop you from talking to current candidates.

The time is now, right now, to think about what you are willing to do, give up or fight for in terms of where your child goes to school. I am past this point for my children (one in college, the other established at Roosevelt) but I continue to ask these questions (and I'm willing to fight if it helps) because it does matter to the overall stability and health of our district.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Denny/Sealth Update

This is the latest article in the West Seattle Herald about the Denny/Sealth renovation. For me (clearly) some amount of irony here:

"One parent said the district was treating the public like "children," and only cared about their opinion when it comes time to vote for a levies and bonds.

"You can't just bulldoze through the community and tell us it's a done deal when you didn't involve us in the first place," she said."

Well, it helps to ask questions before you vote for something but the bond language was not clear on the dual-campus issue.

However, school administrators admit they didn't do enough outreach and promise more opportunities for parental input.

There seem to be several issues here including:

-not telling people clearly it would be joint campus
-parking issues
-staff issues (with many staff opposed to the joint idea which makes it harder to implement if people are not onboard - out of the half of Denny's staff that voted, 75% were against the idea)
-safety issues

Oh yeah and this:

"The schools will interface through a galleria that will serve as a "conduit" to facilities, such as gyms, cafeterias, language labs and counseling offices, said Gilmore. Six gymnasiums are planned for the new campus, more than any other Seattle Public school, and a 1,000-seat auditorium, the largest in the district. The schools are predicting a combined total of about 1,600 students at the new campus."

Six gymnasiums? For 1600 students? I'm sure there's an explanation there somewhere.

Irene Stewart seems to recognize some of this but did say that she had seen this as a good way to get major improvements to both campuses but that the $125M cost was high (and for Sealth only being renovated to a 25-year cycle, really high).

Stay tuned.

Agenda for July 11th Board Meeting

The agenda for next week's Board meeting has been posted and has several interesting items. One is a renaming for High Point Elementary (which has Fairmount Park now joining it). There had been a survey about renaming it and the pick is West Seattle Elementary.

The most interesting is the revisions to the visitors to school policies. There would be a revision to limit the number of visits to two per year per school from any military, college or career group. Not sure if means all military or two per Navy, Marine, etc.

They would also be adopting a new procedure for allowing outside group research in schools. It also includes a new provision:

"It also is amended to allow parents/guardians and/or students to select to have directory information not disclosed to outside individuals or organizations and that such a selection shall remain in place for the duration of a student’s secondary educational years. The procedure is amended to also require that an annual report on the number of students who opt-out of providing information to the military be provided in an annual report to the Superintendent."

I would think this is so parents don't have to try to remember to opt out every year if they so choose. One issue with the opt-out of the directory information is that an issue came up last year at Hale where the yearbook staff left out about a quarter of the graduating seniors. (It's a long story but basically there were major oversights and they did not even include a "not pictured" page. You can imagine how devastated those seniors were.) I was told that my son wouldn't have been included anyway because signing the opt-out form for the directory would mean he couldn't appear in the yearbook anyway (nonetheless, they did still print our grad ad). I wonder if the Board realizes this is an issue or not.

The last piece of this is the following:

"C15.00 is revised to require that an annual report be issued to the Superintendent from each high school estimating post graduation plans. The policy also incorporates a State regulation that all students have in place an educational plan for what they plan to do the year following graduation."

I had been pondering the high school graduation requirements because of Lisa Stuebing's campaign plank on the issue of dropouts. She's entirely right that there are too many and something has to be done. I have told many friends and relatives throughout the country about our graduation requirements and it seems we are unique in how much is required. Many states require students to take but not pass their state test to graduate. Additionally, I haven't found any districts that require community service and/or a senior project. (Not that they don't likely exist but I haven't found them.)

What I had been wondering (and high school counselors are the likely people to ask about this) is whether it is foolish to put so much on students to graduate. To wit, if the problem is getting kids to pass their classes with a 2.0 and pass the WASL, then shouldn't the emphasis be there? I wonder if counselors have struggling kids who say, "I can barely maintain a 2.0, I still have to retake the WASL and I don't have the time for a project and community service." Would more kids graduate if they didn't have as much to do? Is academics/WASL more important than service learning/senior project for struggling students?

I do believe the community service is good thing and has valuable lessons. I just wonder if it were 40 hours (10 per year) if it would be more doable. I'm pretty sure community service is just SPS.

I think the senior project is useless mainly because every high school makes up its own "senior project", grades it and I don't see how any real value can be placed on it. It can be as easy or hard as any given school wants it to be. It's not like students won't have to research and present a project sometimes during their high school career. They would have to be at the most lax high school ever. The senior project is a state requirement.

Mark Green, COO, Resigns to Take Job at UW

This article is from the District's website. Mr. Green is leaving for a job directing business affairs at UW Medicine. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has selected Fred Stephens, director of Facilities, to be the new COO. He has quite an impressive resume which makes me wonder what he was doing in Facilities. He may be well-suited for the COO job.

"Mr. Stephens came to SPS from an already distinguished career in the public sector. He served for six years as Director of the Department of Licensing of the State of Washington where he led transformation of customer service standards at licensing renewal offices and implemented an agency-wide program to provide licensing services via the internet. Mr. Stephens also served for two years as Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Gary Locke. In this role, he oversaw 22 cabinet agencies, and spearheaded the Governor's regulatory reform and quality improvement initiatives.

Stephens also served as Chief Administrative Officer for King County; Assistant Secretary of the Management Services Division of the State Department of Health and Human Services; and held positions at Hewlett Packard and Xerox. He holds a BA from Wilberforce University in Ohio; an MA from Yale University; and has attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government Leadership Programs at Harvard University."

Despite this, Mark Green leaves a big hole of institutional knowledge. Mr. Stephens has only been there 2 years, we are likely to have a new majority on the Board, Carla Santorno is fairly new and, of course, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is just getting here next week.

It does leave open speculation on what exactly will happen especially in terms of how the District will proceed. I'd think Dr. Goodloe-Johnson would want at least a couple of months to get the lay of the land but after that....?

Thinking about the Board I realized that Michael de Bell will no longer be the lone male on the Board. Harim Martin-Morris is practically a shoo-in while Peter Maier and Steve Sundquist are strong candidates. (I know there are other men running but don't know a lot about them yet.) In fact, if all male candidates won, we could have 5 men and 2 women on the Board. Interesting.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Program Placement Committee minutes

They came today. I made a public records request for the minutes of the Program Placement Committee and they came today. I have copies of the minutes from meetings ranging from September 2003 to January 2005. They make for vaguely interesting reading. It's very clear that the Committee, as a practice, defers to principals and that the Committee is extremely reactive despite repeatedly stated intentions to plan ahead.

More Candidate Info

I was checking out the King County Democrats website and found that 7 of the candidates for School Board had filled out the Dems questionaire. Those are Darlene Flynn, Peter Maier, Sherry Carr, Lisa Stuebing, Harium Martin-Morris, Steve Sundquist and Maria Ramirez. Their answers are interesting and may help in broadening your perspective on these candidates. I wouldn't say that it's a mark against those candidates who did not participate (maybe they didn't get their forms in on time, didn't know, etc.) but it would have been helpful to read what their answers would have been as well.

PI's Take on "Pro Bono" Work

This editorial appeared in yesterday's PI.

Also, just to put some perspective on how this lawsuit came to pass, Ballard was not a popular school in the late 80's/early '90s. It ran almost full but was not a big first choice. In 1991, the then-Superintendent recommended the building be demolished and rebuilt but could not get a bond measure passed until 1995. In 1994, a student there was killed in a drive-by shooting. It would be interesting to know where Queen Anne and Magnolia students spread out to after Queen Anne High was closed in 1981 but, given that Ballard High wasn't full, I don't think they were all trying to get in there. Ballard was really in a bad state.

So Ballard was rebuilt and became a success story (with the biotech/maritime programs put in to make the school more attractive). The district success in reinventing Ballard did cause more parents in Queen Anne and Magnolia to try to send their students there and thus you got the oversubscription.

Also, in doing some research, I found some interesting capacity numbers (given to the PI by the District). This was for 1989:

Enrollment Capacity
Ballard 993 1054
Roosevelt 1238 1345
Hale 780 933
Garfield 1165 1173

In all the time I've done research, I've never seen these capacity figures so low. If Roosevelt's capacity was 1345, then they were really packing them in at 1600. My point is that Facilities figures are troubling given the variation in them from year-to-year, decade-to-decade for the same buildings.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Spectrum and the Assignment Plan

I'm becoming anxious about the new Student Assignment Plan. The Board has approved the framework, but the framework has yet to address the controversial issue that it needs to address: Spectrum.

Special programs like Spectrum are mentioned twice in the introductory paragraph for the new assignment plan. One of the plan's goals is to "provide equitable access to programs" and one of the plan's requirements is the "careful and intentional location of specialized programs". Despite the focus in the charge, there is scant mention of specialized programs within the framework.

This is a very tricky problem. There are three types of considerations to be balanced.

First are the academic considerations. A Spectrum program needs a critical mass of students to form a viable learning community. To be strong, an elementary Spectrum program needs to have at least 80-100 students. The Manager of Advanced Learning told the Board Student Learning Committee that a middle school Spectrum program needs a critical mass of 180 to be viable. There are a number of programs, both elemenatry and middle school, which are not nearly big enough to function well. If the elementary clusters are broken up into mini-clusters, will there be a Spectrum program for each mini-cluster? And if there is, won't that splinter the critical mass of students and preclude effectiveness? Or will some Spectrum programs reach across mini-clusters to bring together enough students to make the program effective? Similarly, when the middle schools each have their own reference area will they each have to offer Spectrum or would it be more effective if some of the schools pooled their Spectrum students to gather the necessary critical mass?

Next are the operational concerns. If the an elementary school is going to have 100 or 120 Spectrum students, when the District "right-size"s the school's reference area, they will have to take that into consideration. Lafayette may have room for 416 students, but if the District must allow for the possibility that there could be 140 Spectrum students there, the reference area shouldn't have more than 276 non-Spectrum kids in it. The District better think hard about where these programs are going to be, because if they set the reference area for Lafayette small to allow for Spectrum, but then they relocate the Spectrum program, they will need to reset the reference area. Similarly, they won't be able to move a program to a school without adjusting the reference area to account for the set aside seats. If one Spectrum site is going to serve more than one mini-cluster or middle school reference area, will the District provide transportation out of cluster or region for Spectrum? And what will the District do when a Spectrum program fills up? Once Wedgwood has filled their fourth grade Spectrum class, where will the next Spectrum student in that cluster go to school? Will that student not have access to Spectrum? Will the student have access to Spectrum in a neighboring cluster without transportation? Or will the District provide out-of-cluster transportation for that student for Spectrum?

Then comes the political considerations. How will people respond to the idea that a neighborhood reference area is shrunk to allow set aside seats for Spectrum? How will people respond to out-of-cluster or out-of-region transportation for Spectrum? If the District doesn't consolidate clusters for Spectrum and gather a critical mass of students, then they will not be able to provide equitable programs - no more than they are today. They will not have solved the problem they are trying to fix.

Finally, before any of this goes any further, will the District relocate the Spectrum programs that are not proving effective? The Manager of Advanced Learning told the public and the Board that she would close Spectrum programs that couldn't attract enough students to form a viable program, but she just left the position in the same year that she was supposed to fulfill that commitment. Will the incoming Manager of Advanced Learning feel obligated by his predessesor's statement?

A Cautionary Tale (Whether for Public/Private Partnerships or Charter Schools)

This article, Patrons Sway Leads to Friction in Charter School, appeared in the NY Times last week. The Times' synopsis:

"The clash has exposed fault lines of wealth and class that are perhaps inevitable as philanthropists, in New York and nationwide, increasingly invest in public education, providing new schools to children in poor neighborhoods while making communities dependent on their generosity. And for those lucky to have such benefactors, the situation raises core questions: Who ultimately controls charter schools, which are financed by taxpayers but often rely heavily on charitable donations? Do the schools, which operate outside the control of the local school district, answer to parents, or to their wealthy founders?"

A quote from Frederick M. Hess, an expert in philanthropy in education (what an interesting thing to study):

"Frederick M. Hess, an expert on philanthropy in education, said there would be more disputes like the one in Brooklyn as high-profile donors invest their reputations in schools and face “the enormous kind of name-brand question.”

“When those schools disappoint them, when there are disputes or divergence regarding institutional mission,” asked Mr. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, “how are they going to negotiate this relationship?” He added, “What we are seeing is really just the front end of what is going to be a fascinating dynamic.” "

On the plus side for the couple:

"In educational philanthropy, the Reichs were pioneers. They fought for years to get the city’s Board of Education to let them open the Beginning With Children school in 1992 in an impoverished section of Williamsburg, before charter schools became a national trend and at a time when private donors were generally reluctant to write checks to public school systems. The school converted to charter status in 2001. They fought through bureaucratic tangles to get the system to accept a virtually free building, a former Pfizer pharmaceutical factory, which the school now occupies for $1 a year. "

On the minus:

"The 14-member Beginning With Children board included appointees from the Reichs’ foundation, which helps finance the school; parents; teachers; the principal; and community representatives. The board chairman, John Day, is a former Pfizer executive.

The Reichs said the problem was that the board was “constituency-based” and that they wanted members with practical skills like fund-raising or public relations instead. To get the changes, they threatened in a strongly worded letter to cut off their support unless all but three of the board members resigned. Among those told to quit were five parent and faculty representatives.

At a board meeting last month, parents lashed out at the Reichs, angrily describing their relationship as that of master and servant or landlord and tenant. One parent said the threat to cut ties was “a gun pointed at the head of every child in this facility.” In recent years, the school has faced annual budget gaps of up to $635,000 that were filled by the Reichs’ foundation, and parents said they feared that the school would close without the Reichs’ help. Mrs. Reich, 71, said of the letter: “It was not a blunt threat. It was a choice. You can go the way you are going or you can restructure yourselves.”"

It was a problem for their board to be "constiuency-based"? It seems for any public/private partnership or charter, that would be the central tenant. To say that pulling the funds from the school if 11 out of 14 people didn't leave the board is not a threat is a little disingenious. It could be that the parents/teachers asked to leave weren't qualified or working as a team but to say, as the article states, that the couple wants to give teachers a separate input and parents a separate input (with no real power) is akin to being a private school.

The current Board or the next Board has to get a public/private partnership policy on board or we might be facing these kinds of problems if every single one of them has a different MOU (memorandum of understanding). A policy would allow the Board to feel ready to seek out these partnerships.