Thursday, January 31, 2008

Big Issues Looming (and the Meetings to Discuss Them)

So next week's calendar has a couple of important meetings on district issues.

One is the district's meeting at the Chief Sealth High School library on Monday, the 4th, at 6:30, to discuss the plan for the co-joined Denny/Sealth building. They scheduled their meeting after the local community group, the Westwood Neighborhood Council, had announced their meeting on the issue on Tuesday, the 5th. (This upset a number of people and the Council has rescheduled for Tuesday, the 12th at 7 pm in the Sealth High Commons. They will have a 5-person panel to discuss issues about both the co-joined building and co-joined programs. They will have as moderator, Enrique Cerna from KCTS and Steve Sundquist, Board director for the region, will be one of the panelists.)

Both meetings should be quite interesting as they will cover some of the same ground but not all. The district's meeting won't be talking about the academic benefits or what the academic plan is. Oh, that's right - there is no plan yet, according to Carla Santorno. That's an interesting idea to create a 6-12 school without creating the program first.

This is one of the first big challenges to both the Superintendent and the Board. The Superintendent, at the presentation of the project by staff to the Board, seem to be set on the project as is. President Chow took pains to say she didn't need "100% buy-in". (I had to roll my eyes at that one as it seemed silly. Of course, no one can expect 100% buy-in. It seemed something of an intimidation tactic to the other Board members to me.) I personally believe after all the shoutin' is over, the Board will vote for the project to be a co-joined building. (Oh heck, Mary Bass might just be the cheese who stands alone but even she might want to look like one of the gang.)

But there are an awful lot of hurdles to get past (or overlook or rationalize as the case may be). One is simply that voters got different information from the district. Why would the district do that? Why tell 45,000 households one thing and not put it in the voters pamphlet which reaches all voters? I've heard many people say they toss most campaign literature and read only the voters pamphlet. After all, it is the official election guide. (And, as an aside, what was Peter Maier's role in this? He was head of Schools First which likely had some voice in what was printed.) Doesn't it trouble any Board member that shrugging this off might bode ill for future votes?

Two, did anyone ask the parent community if they wanted a 6-12 school? It's a pretty key issue for any parent especially if the district changes the assignment plan and it becomes more difficult to access other schools. It's also problematic in that the district has no real plan to explain to these parents.

Three, if they go with a co-joined building, that means a couple of things. Work done on Sealth under BEX II and BTA in the last 5 years will either be destroyed (tennis courts/softball field) or altered (Commons and library). The district is saying that delaying the project is costing money; well, they are going to have cost taxpayers money for work done that will now be changed. Also, there will be tremendous security issues for a 2100 student community complete with two staffs. There have to be video cameras and quick/secure ways to lock down the building and separate the two communities. The district hasn't shown itself to be very good at addressing these issues, even post-Columbine and post-V-Tech. Roosevelt and Cleveland are good examples. Also, there is less flexibility in a co-joined building. What if the 6-12 program doesn't work or isn't accepted by families? What then? Whether you rebuild Denny on-site or move it next to Sealth, two buildings provide more flexibility.

Also, what about the teachers (especially at Sealth)? If most of went to work and were told that our physical workplace would be altered again (after already being partially remodelled) but this time to co-join with another building so that our company would co-join with another company and no one asked us our opinion or thoughts on how to make it work, wouldn't we feel unhappy? I haven't heard Sealth teachers say no but rather than they are deeply troubled over not having any real understanding of how it will work.

Also, the Facilities staff is offering a second option that would throw $5-10M more at the Sealth project (a buy-off?). I say $5-10M because at the Board presentation it was $5-10M but at the BEX Oversight Committee it was $5M. Interesting that staff would say different things at different meetings. More to the point, where would this money come from? According to staff, construction costs are going up daily and yet they can find this extra money? Sure but it'll likely come out of some other project's budget. Raise your hand if you're Hale, Hamilton or New School.

Why should you care? Well, you should care if you are either a Seattle taxpayer or voter. You paid for work at Sealth that now will be changing less than 5 years after it was put in. You were not told, clearly, what you were voting for in the official voting guide and yet the district thought it important enough to give some voters a clearer picture. If the district can come in and make a huge decision like co-joining two schools without any input from the community, the parents, the students or the teachers, we should all worry. We could be next. And, as I mentioned, if they are trying to make the Sealth project more expansive, then finding $5-10M isn't like finding change in the sofa cushions.

The other interesting meeting is not actually a meeting but a Board Workshop next Wednesday, the 6th, from 4-8 pm (yikes!) on the Student Assignment Plan. This, folks, should be interesting and, of course, important to parents. This is where we might actually hear some nitty-gritty or see preliminary boundaries for schools.

First report of findings from McKinsey

Last night the consultants from McKinsey presented their initial findings. The presentation can be found on the Strategic Plan web page.

There is nothing here that an observer of the District would not already know. These findings are not the plan, just early discussion points. For what it's worth, the consultants seem to have it right. I have to wonder, however, what outside stakeholders they spoke with.

The Strategic Plan web page now also includes the Communications review by the Broad Foundation and a copy of the Superintendent's Entry Plan. I also note that the due date for the Phi Delta Kappa curriculum audit has been pushed back to February.

I was EXTREMELY disappointed to discover that the review of the District's Communications was all about public relations and not about public engagement - authentic two-way communication. As the reviewer wrote: "Moreover, you might consider whether the Communications Office is adequately staffed in terms of skill set and people-power to led both the public engagement and communications functions for the district, given the demands of both. The two are certainly related but not synonymous." The report is almost entirely about the District's press plan. There is a very brief reference to customer service, but it was considered part of the District "brand experience". All of the interviews for the report were internal. Although the reviewer noted that the District's PR efforts weren't reaching low-income and immigrant communities, he did not speak with anyone within the Equity and Race Relations office, home of the Family Involvement department. Seriously, this thing was ALL about PR.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Click!

This article about the use of "clickers" in the classroom appeared in the NY Times. From the article:

"The clickers are part of an increasingly popular technology known as an audience response system, which has been used for everything from surveying game show audiences to polling registered voters. That technology is now spreading to public and private schools across the country.

The Los Angeles school district has spent about $503,000 to buy clickers for more than two dozen middle schools since 2005, district officials said. Smaller districts in the Dallas and Atlanta suburbs have also invested in them, according to school officials and companies that manufacture the devices. In New York City, a dozen schools across the five boroughs have experimented with the devices. And in St. Paul, the clickers are routinely used to train teachers and administrators and to get reaction from parents at community meetings."

(Reaction from parents at community meetings? Heresay!)

I had heard about these years ago from people in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at UW where they prototyped them. From the article:

"In a typical system, the clickers record data from individuals, and transmit that information, through wireless technology, to a computer program. The program can instantly display the results, tally them and present them in elaborate spreadsheets and eye-catching graphics like spaceships or “Jeopardy!”-style boards. It can track the percentage of correct answers received for each question as well as the participation rate among all users."

I had read survey results from UW about the usage and students liked them because everyone got to give input (not just the bright and the eager beavers), it could be done anonymously (so no one has to be embarrassed about being wrong) and the professors could see, instantly, where thinking might be going astray and course correct their teaching.

It might be a better investment than Smart boards which teachers don't always use anyway and the light bulbs for them cost $400.

If You Want Great Scientists, You Need to Nuture Them

The NY Times had an article about the finalists for the Intel Science Talent Search (formerly Westinghouse Science Talent Search). Forty percent of them came from NY State. So I ask my husband, who lived in Brooklyn, how that might be. The answer was that NY State supports its gifted students and has very specific high schools for them. From the article:

"Six finalists have gone on to win Nobel Prizes."

“Her mature, clear, deep writing style is as high as any student I’ve ever met,” said Mr. Brooks, who conceded that some of Katie’s reasoning could be difficult to follow because of the material’s density. “It’s the work of a graduate-level student,” he said."

"David Alex Rosengarten, 17, another finalist from the Great Neck school, studied Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity and whether it could explain the galactic rotation curve problem in astrophysics."

But really, those kids would have been better off in a general ed classroom because well, those kids always turn out okay.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bush's state of the union and call for vouchers...

From the transcript of Bush's state of the union address (1/28/08):

"We must also do more to help children when their schools do not measure up. Thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships you approved, more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our nation's capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other nonpublic schools.

Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America's inner cities. So I will convene a White House summit aimed at strengthening these lifelines of learning.

And to open the doors of these schools to more children, I ask you to support a new $300 million program called Pell Grants for Kids. We have seen how Pell Grants help low-income college students realize their full potential.

Together, we've expanded the size and reach of these grants. Now let us apply the same spirit to help liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools."

Vouchers may sound fair but they divert much needed public funds away from public schools and to schools that selectively choose who they admit and are not accountable to taxpayers. The national PTA, which is also against vouchers, sent the following detailed response to all members of Congress today:

January 29, 2008

United States Senate
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC

Dear Members of Congress:

The National PTA, comprising millions of parents, teachers, students, and other child advocates, is firmly opposed to President Bush's proposal for "Pell Grants for Kids", a national voucher program that deprives public schools of critically needed taxpayer funds by diverting those funds to private schools with no taxpayer or educational accountability. Public funding for education needs to support and improve our nation's public schools.

In one breath, Mr. Bush called for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), saying that we must "work together to increase accountability, add flexibility for states and districts, reduce the number of dropouts, provide extra help for struggling schools." In the next breath, Mr. Bush called for the diversion of $300 million dollars in taxpayer funds to support schools that are not accountable to the public, have no requirements for teacher quality, and show no evidence of improving student achievement. This seems contradictory, at best.

Vouchers benefit few students while taking scarce resources away from those who need it the most. Vouchers take money away from public schools, where 90 percent of all school-age children are enrolled, and give it to private schools. Public schools must meet federal state and local standards in a broad variety of areas including teacher qualifications, core curriculum and student achievement, and report their status to elected school boards and the taxpaying public. Private schools have no public accountability for the expenditure of public funds. Public schools must demonstrate student achievement and progress. Private schools are not required to demonstrate anything. Students receiving vouchers are not required to take core subjects such as reading, math, history, and science much less demonstrate proficiency in these core subjects. Private schools are not required to have "highly qualified" teachers or even meet minimal state teacher qualifications. Private schools are not required to make Adequate Yearly Progress.

The "choice" in "choice programs" lies with private school administrators, not with parents. Supporters of vouchers claim that they give choice to parents; that is not the case. Vouchers will not ensure parental "choice." Private and religious schools may deny applications for enrollment for any reason. Furthermore, private schools are not required to follow the parental involvement provisions of NCLB, a provision that Congress embraced heartily just a few short years ago.

There is no strong evidence that voucher programs—whether funded directly, or indirectly through education tax subsidies—improve student achievement. In fact, a recent study by the Department of Education shows that public school students do as well or better than their private school counterparts in 4th grade math and reading and in 8th grade math on the National Assessment of Education Progress.

Americans have consistently rejected vouchers, both in surveys and in referendums. What's more, Congress has consistently rejected voucher proposals just like the President's most recent proposal.

If we are serious about keeping America competitive, we must be equally serious about our support of education. If we want student achievement to continue to rise, high-school graduation and college enrollment to increase, and the student drop-out rate to decrease, there is no better investment than public education. Children succeed when families, schools and communities work together. Together, we can make every child's potential a reality.

If National PTA can provide you with any further information or assistance, please contact Todd Haiken, Acting Manager of Public Policy, at .

Sincerely,
Jan Harp Domene
PTA National President

If you feel as strongly about this as I do, now is a good time to contact your representatives in Congress and remind them how you feel about this proposal:
https://forms.house.gov/wyr/welcome.shtml
http://cantwell.senate.gov/contact/
http://murray.senate.gov/email/index.cfm

Or, email all 3 at once using this site: http://www.rallycongress.com/letter2congress/698/

Thanks,
Andrew

Monday, January 28, 2008

New Strategic Plan

The District is embarking on a new Strategic Plan initiative. The new plan has its own web site and an email address.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Learn More About Education Funding on Monday

From the Seattle Times:
A Monday night meeting at Seattle Public Schools headquarters will focus on state funding for education.

School district Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and School Board President Cheryl Chow will talk about education funding and how it affects local students. Chow, a member of the state's Basic Education Funding Task Force, will discuss her experience.

After their remarks, Paola Maranan, executive director of the Children's Alliance, will discuss efforts to improve education funding in Washington.

The meeting, sponsored by the Seattle Council PTSA, aims to prepare people to speak to legislators about the need for more education funding.

The event is open to the public. There will be time for refreshments and networking beginning at 6:30 p.m.; presentations start at 7 p.m. at the John Stanford Center, 2445 Third Ave. S., Seattle. Information: president@seattlecouncilptsa.org or 206-364-7430.

Friday, January 25, 2008

High School Math Curriculum Adoption

The State of Washington will, in the coming weeks, determine the new K-12 Math Standards. They have a draft set that folks can review.

The OSPI has promised to name three curricula which they regard as roughly aligned with the State Standards and they will support. Districts will not be required to adopt one of these three curricula (yet), but the OSPI has promised support for these three, which, if it materializes, would be a strong incentive for Districts to select one of them. The OSPI has promised that there will be at least one traditional math curricula among the three for each school level.

Seattle Public Schools has recently adopted math curricula for middle schools (CMP II) and elementary schools (Everyday Math supplemented by Singapore Math). This year, the District will adopt a new high school math curriculum. The District's math curriculum adoption web page is horribly out-of-date, but it offers the best information publicly available on the topic.

According to that web page, the District is considering these three curricula for high school math:

College Preparatory Mathematics [CPM]: Algebra Connections, Geometry Connections, Algebra 2

Key Press Interactive Mathematics Program [IMP]: Year 1, 2, 3, 4

McGraw-Hill-Glencoe Contemporary Mathematics in Context [Core-Plus]: Course 1, 2, 3, 4

I hear that some schools are already using IMP and some are already using Core-Plus.

The Board has scheduled a work session on High School Math Adoption for March 12. Curriculum adoption is a Board level decision, but I don't believe the Board would even consider overruling a recommendation from staff. The Board will select a curricula this Spring and that curricula will be implemented in the fall of 2008. As with the middle school and elementary school math adoption, we can expect that high schools will be required to implement the selected curricula unless they get a waiver.

Interventions

In a recent post, I wrote about the need for interventions for students who are not working at grade level.

From my perspective, the District should have a system to assure early and effective intervention for individual students not meeting standards. There are, of course, other perspectives. Some may think that each school should develop their own interventions and apply them as they see fit. I suspect that there are others who see no need for such interventions and find the whole idea of "working at grade level" or "meeting Standards" as artificial and industrial rather than natural and humanistic.

In addition to the question of whether there should be interventions, and the question of what authority should direct them, there is the additional question of what form they should take. The range could run from teachers taking additional time to provide students with remedial instruction on an ad hoc basis within the regular class time, to Individual Learning Plans, to additional instruction provided during an extended school day or week, to pull-out programs, to separate programs. There is no reason that we could not have multiple programs depending on the severity of the case or at the option of the student's family.

I think there is - or should be - a lot more interest in this topic and a lot more discussion of it than we generally see within Seattle Public Schools. For all of the high-minded statements about "Every Student Meeting Standards" the fact is that we have a lot of students who are not meeting standards. Despite the high priority we claim for this crisis, I don't see a commensurate amount of effort spent addressing it. Most of the work done to close the academic achievement gap - as far as I can see - is applied across the board for all students (such as literacy training) or in areas other than instruction (such as home visits). Personally, I would like to see a more targeted effort focused specifically on providing direct instruction to those individual students who are working below Standards.

Perhaps I am naive, but it has a sort of "apply directly to forehead" simplicity to it. The problem is that there are specific students who need specific instruction. So why not identify those students and give them the instruction? What am I missing here? How does it serve those students to take no action or to continue what we have been doing? Do you think what we have been doing is working?

Have the District's current efforts been successful? What results have we seen from culturally relevant curriculum? from home visits? from literacy training? from instructional coaches? Is there data that shows these District-driven efforts have been effective? What efforts tried by schools have proven effective? What does Maple do? or Van Asselt? Can we determine what works and what doesn't, and can we expand and duplicate the effective strategies?

Please don't jump to any conclusions about boot camps, or WASL-driven curricula. If that's not what is best for the students, then why in the world would we do such a thing? If, however, you think that IS what is best for the students, then please speak up in favor of it.

Honestly, I can't think of any more important topic for discussion. We can go on about the District's failure or refusal to engage the community on any number of topics. We can host a religious war over math curricula or gifted ed. But this issue speaks directly to the purpose of public education, and it is a deep concern for me and a great number of other people. I have been frustrated to the point of madness by the District's inability to make progress on this matter - particularly with all of the highly charged talk about it. The talk just doesn't match the action. That has to end. What can we do?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Math Standards

I went to the presentation on the new Washington State K-12 Math Standards last night at Roosevelt High School. The new standards are supposed to be more rigorous, more narrowly focused on core content priorities, they are supposed to require greater depth in those core content priorities, they are clearer and more detailed, and they are supposed to be pedagogically neutral - not preferring either reform math or traditional math.

In the end, however, the change in the Standards won't help the state improve the number of students meeting the Standards. The problem isn't that the old Standards were bad - they were bad, but that wasn't the problem. The problem is that the Standards - all of the Standards - are meaningless because neither the State nor the Districts have a "then what".

Education is a human endeavor. That means, among other things, that it is going to have a broad diversity of outcomes. Since there is only one outcome that we deem as positive (student meets standard), we should be ready for other outcomes. Particularly in the case of the Math Standards where about half of the students are not seeing the positive outcome. Astonishly, we have no contingency plan for such a result.

Let's say that a student in grades 3-8 doesn't meet the math standard - as is the case for about half of them - then what? Well, then nothing. There is no intervention. There is no package of services ready to deploy and no package of services that gets reliably deployed when a student doesn't meet the standard. We have no reaction. We take no action to address the situation. We simply pass the student along to the next grade level. Hey, if a child can't swim in a pool four feet deep, it doesn't help to toss that kid into a five-foot deep pool.

What happens for the student who doesn't pass the fourth grade WASL? Nothing. They are placed in a general education fifth grade class along with everyone else. Only that student isn't ready to do fifth grade work. The work doesn't make sense to the student. In the language of current education trends, the content isn't relevent for the student. So what happens? The student is not engaged. And what is the result? The student underperforms and commonly becomes a behavior problem.

So now, the failure to act on the part of the State, the District, and the school, grows from being a personal tragedy for the underperforming student to becoming an inhibitor on the academic progress of every other student in the class. The underperforming student with a behavior problem takes teacher time away from the grade level curriculum to address their remedial needs and takes teacher time away from instruction to address their behavior issues. It negatively impacts the education of every other student in the class. And it isn't just one underperforming student with a behavior problem in a class; there are lots of them.

Underperforming students with behavior problems don't just create negative impacts for individual classrooms, they negatively impact all of public K-12 education. Why do families feel they need to choose a private school? To escape underperforming students with behavior problems. Why do families want their children in Spectrum classes? To escape underperforming students with behavior problems. What is the big "kick me" sign on public education for critics - the people who are always saying "no more money for schools until they start showing better results" and "public schools are no good" and "we need charter schools"? Underperforming students with behavior problems. Let's strip away the varnish, the euphomisms, and the political correctness and be brutally honest about what is wrong with K-12 public education: underperforming students with behavior problems.

The school and the District must develop and implement some process for turning underperforming students with behavior problems into high performing motivated students. Put more nicely and positively, the State, the District, and the schools must provide underperforming students with behavior problems the support they need to become motivated high performing students. Can they? Well, it's a yes or no question. If the answer is "Yes", then they better start doing it. They certainly aren't doing it now. This should be their top priority. Seattle Public Schools has said, for years and years, that their top priority is to close the academic achievement gap by bringing every student up to Standards, yet the District has not developed or implemented any effort to achieve that goal. Isn't that odd? Can you imagine any other organization stating - so clearly and emphatically - a top priority and then not taking even the first step towards that goal? Weird. The solution is obvious: we need a package of services ready to deploy for underperforming students and we need to deploy those services reliably for every student identified as having that need.

Of course, it is possible that the answer is "No". Maybe there is nothing that the State, the District, or a school can do to turn underperforming students with behavior problems into high performing motivated students. In that case, the State, the District and the schools need a plan to separate those students from the others to reduce the negative impacts that underperforming students with behavior problems have on the academic progress of other students and on the effectiveness and reputation of public K-12 education. I know that's harsh, but what else can we do? I know that there are those who think some community goal (I'm not sure what goal it is in this case) takes precedence over the individual goals of academic achievement. But I must ask, should every student suffer because some students are intent on making them suffer? How is this any different from bullying?

Fortunately, I believe that there are steps that the State, the Districts, and the schools can take to support underperforming students with behavior problems and convert them to high performing motivated students. They just need to take those steps. Until they do, the Standards - whatever they are - will be meaningless. They will be meaningless because it will make no difference - there will be no consequences - whether a student meets the Standards or not.

What can be done to change underperforming students with behavior problems into high performing motivated students? I recommend diverting them - temporarily - into an extended, intensive, and enriched program designed to quickly bring them up to Standards and then return them to their general education classroom. It's got to work better than what we're doing now - which is nothing.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Education - Dino Style

So I'm browsing a local conservative website (always interesting if not funny). There was this discussion about education and they referenced Dino Rossi's website. Below is his education brief. Now as someone who wouldn't vote for Dino Rossi (I had something very funny to say here but alas! I know I'd offend someone out there), I was a little surprised. Naturally, if you read between the lines there is a lot to wonder and worry about. But I wouldn't have thought he would be against the WASL or want to allow qualified people to teach (in areas needed) without having to take a year+ to get certified. (I also didn't know that there could be districts with less than 180 teaching days a year.)

However, I did hear Dino shining through in his statement on WASL reform:

"As governor, I alone would lead discussions with the legislature on how to best improve it."

Dino as decider.

"When it comes to education, I have one simple test: What is in the best interest of the children?
We have a serious problem with education in our state when two-thirds of our 10th graders do not pass all parts of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) and around 16,000 students dropped out of our high schools in 2005.
It is time for serious education reform that will put students first.
Making education our paramount duty
  • Today, too many politicians in Olympia do not treat education funding like it is their paramount duty.
  • As governor, I will make funding education one of my top priorities.
Teaching a full school year
  • One-third of our public school students are in districts that do not teach a full 180-day school year. I will change that.
Rewarding successful teachers
  • We must reward success. Where we see teachers and principals succeeding consistently – I want them to be paid more.
Focusing on math and science
  • Our students need to do better in math and science and we must focus our resources on these crucial subjects.
  • The current system does not give school districts the flexibility to pay qualified math and science teachers higher salaries. That needs to change so we can attract and keep good math and science teachers.
Letting talented people teach
  • Did you know that Bill Gates is not qualified to teach computer science in our schools under current regulations?
  • We must make it easier to allow talented people to teach part-time by changing the rules on accreditation.
Overhauling student testing
  • I join those who are concerned about whether the WASL is the best measuring tool for student performance.
  • As governor, I alone would lead discussions with the legislature on how to best improve it.
Demanding success from our schools
  • Standardized testing should be used to judge the system – not just the students. And failure must be dealt with accordingly.
  • When we see consistent failure, I want to make it easier for local school districts to encourage failing teachers to find another profession. When a school or school district consistently fails, I want to empower principals and communities to be able to select better teachers and new school board members.
Creating alternatives for students
  • The state needs to understand that students who are not successful on the WASL still have the potential to succeed.
  • Our schools need more alternative pathways for students who do not necessarily excel on the WASL."

Parents' Wish List?

This question is just for the parents of kids in the Seattle School District this blog.

If you (as a K-12 public school teacher) had a magic wand, what 3 things would you change about public education in Seattle?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Connecting Assessment to Learning Goals

From an ASCD conference presentation by Jay McTighe as reported in the Education Update (January 2008):

"...Applying what students know through real-life circumstances --- like purposeful writing, scientific investigation, and issues debates --- is not the same as test-prep drilling. Overreliance on test preparation can stand in the way of meaningful learning and does not actually lead to better performance on the test. In fact, McTighe likened teachers' obsession with test preparation to an athletic team that concentrates only on performing 'sideline drills' --- practicing and testing discrete skills in a decontextualized way --- rather than playing the actual game, which requires putting all the skills and knowledge together in an authentic and contextualized way."

"We need to connect assesment practices to learning goals. If what is assessed signals what is important to learn, then how it is assessed signals how it should be learned. We want kids to use knowledge in game-like situations, not just in sideline drills," he said. "For many kids in many subjects school is an endless stream of sideline drills with no opportunity to play the game with knowledge."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hey Sports Fans!

So there were two articles of interest in the PI today. One is about the UW's efforts to get the state to buy into their plan for a renovated Husky stadium at a cost of $300M. They want half from the state and say they can raise the other half. Frank Chopp, speaker of the house, thinks it's a good idea. What the angle for SPS?

"And the stadium is used for more than just football, lobbyists argue. More than 100 community events were held at the facility last year, and renovation proponents say they'd like to see even more community use.

"One of the things we would like to do is have a Friday-night high school football game of the week at Husky Stadium," Evans said."

Here's what Chopp said:

"It can be used for a lot more than just Husky football. They are talking about a series of high school football games. If you have ever been to Memorial Stadium in Seattle, it's in pretty bad shape."

Thanks Frank. Memorial Stadium isn't the worst I've ever seen and a view of the Space Needle ain't bad. (But I know that it needs a lot of work.) However, it might be nice for schools to have access to a nice new stadium. However, I do remember how Qwest Field was going to be the site of many soccer games (Paul Allen said so) and yet, it seems like they get one or two a year (and that was built with public funds). Also, I have wonder about the football program at UW wanting their field torn up every Friday right before the 1 p.m. Saturday kick-off for their game. I'd be willing to bet it would be a Thursday night high school game.

Onward. So in the sports section of the PI there was this story about the revamping of King-Co, the league that Roosevelt, Garfield and Ballard play in because of their size. (All the other SPS teams are in Metro, I believe.) From the article:

"Say hello to the new KingCo conference, a combined Class 2A/3A/4A league that very nearly does it all. Guaranteed to handle fluctuating enrollment figures for years to come, this one-of-a-kind conference keeps traditional rivalries alive while cutting down on transportation costs and time out of class. It will go into effect this fall."

It's interesting because apparently they have tried to group schools in the divisions (4A, 3A and 2A) by geography. As well, they have two divisions; one for group sports and one for individual sports. That way for group sports larger schools don't dominate smaller schools but those issues aren't as severe for individual sports.

Also from the article:

"For team sports, and football in particular, teams must play at their own classification level during league play but are allowed enough open dates for crossover games with traditional rivals that are at a different level."

Here's where the Seattle schools land for team sports in the 4A Crown Division:

Ballard, Bothell, Inglemoor, Lake Washington, Roosevelt, Woodinville

(Garfield is in another 4A geographic division.) Okay but that means that Seattle teams still have to go over 520 to get to games. It may be better that they are all northern teams but there's still a lot of travel involved.

For individual sports the Seattle teams are in this division:

Ballard, Bellevue, Mercer Island, Roosevelt

This is kind of a key issue in later start times for high schools because sports are a big, big deal in high school and the sports schedule is a huge issue in trying to get a later start time(although I note that Ballard has done it and they are in King-Co).

It is done in other parts of the country and hasn't ended sports there. I think it is sad (and I say this as someone with a student involved in a sport) that sports could trump academic outcomes but try telling people you want a later start time and the first thing you hear is "What about sports?"

Teachers' Wish List?

This question is just for the K-12 public school teachers reading this blog. I'll post a different thread tomorrow for parents, and a third for district non-teaching staff.

If you (as a K-12 public school teacher) had a magic wand, what 3 things would you change about public education in Seattle?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

From OSPI - Math Forum at Roosevelt

From Dr. Bergeson, WA state Superintendent for Public Instruction:

I would like to take this opportunity to cordially invite you to attend the K-12 Math Forum on January 22 at the Roosevelt High School Library from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

I will be providing a progress report on the math standards revision process, its impact on student assessment, and discussing future efforts to improve math curriculum and provide support for teachers.

Local educators, business and community leaders will also share their perspectives about statewide efforts to improve math education.

Share your comments and questions and learn more about the next steps to improve math instruction and student learning.

She's Running...Again

I had missed that Terry Bergeson is running for State Superintendent of public schools again. I think Dr. Bergeson should go. Her record is not great and we've had uneven results from the WASL and math reforms. (I'll cut her slack in implementing WASL because it must have been huge to have to create and send it into motion.) I just don't believe the WASL is a good testing instrument and she has been pretty stubborn about not making changes.

Now This Should Be an Interesting Presentation at the Legislature.

This article appeared in today's Times.

"On Friday, Edwards and about 15 of her robotics teammates will journey to Olympia to lobby the Legislature to fund robotics teams in high schools statewide.

The students' pitch to legislators is straightforward: Robotics teams are a great way to motivate students to learn more about science, technology and math — all hot-button topics in education.

As state educators debate ways to get more students to meet state standards for math and science, these students say extracurricular activities such as building a robot and taking it to a competition could make learning a lot more fun and effective."

Great idea as most of these teams have to scrounge for private support. I know Roosevelt has a team and I believe Hale does as well. It is really a great way to teach science and math as well as to have competitions which motivate many students.

Two Interesting Education Op-Eds in the PI

This op-ed is by Rep. Glenn Anderson about supporting (and funding?) a good public education system. I like his points:

  • Dedicating a "Fund Education First" budget that is agreed to and funded before any other state spending is authorized.
  • Reviewing our state's achievement-testing approach, and a recommitment to achievement testing that is rigorous, globally competitive and trusted by parents and teachers.
  • Eliminating the current seniority-based teacher compensation model and requiring a skills and knowledge compensation model to recruit and retain the best young people to be our highly qualified teachers.
  • Improving guidance-counseling services to ensure kids, parents and teachers know what our education expectations are and what their options and resources are to achieve them.
  • Requiring that career and technical education and college bound education pathways are equally encouraged and supported in our schools.
  • Reforming English language learning programs to ensure that no child is left behind.
  • Ensuring school transportation spending reform is a priority."

  • Someone did point out in the comments section that he used the term "best young people" to be teachers and that it is illegal under age discrimination laws.

    But where's the money for this? The governor says no education talk this session. The Times opined a week or so ago the same thing.

    "Spending for K-12 education ought to stay steady, with an eye toward making good on current priorities and promises. This is not the time for new ideas or spending to come bounding in from left field, or right.

    Improving mathematics instruction and ensuring struggling students have access to academic help, from tutoring to summer and evening school, are priorities from last session that ought to flow into this one.

    Education-related efforts that don't require new spending include improving data collection among school districts and mandatory recess for elementary students. Fresh air and exercise are free; literacy efforts have proven their value."

    I hate to break it to them but improving data collection and mandatory recess DO cost money and time. There is no easy out.

    Another op-ed on a different vein by parent, Greg Fritzberg. From his piece:

    "The relationship between democracy and schooling is part of our national history. "I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves," Thomas Jefferson argued. "And if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control ... the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform [them] by education."

    He goes on:

    "How do parents' school choices specifically relate to democratic principles? A particular private school might seem to fit our child best, but there is a cost to educated and caring families divesting themselves from our city's school system. By choosing private over public schools, or public schools in more affluent areas simply because we assume the education is better there, we may limit our children's exposure to differences of appearance, culture and opinion.

    Every child and every school is unique. I can't moralize here because I don't know what I'll do myself if our first choice isn't granted, but addressing civic alongside more individualistic concerns feels important. King envisioned an authentic democracy that celebrated diversity because it strengthened character. Most of us aren't King's moral equals, but we can let his life and message shape our school deliberations in the coming weeks."

    New Immersion School in the South End

    This article appeared in the PI today.

    "The district plans to announce Thursday that Beacon Hill Elementary will be designated an international school offering immersion or partial immersion programs in Spanish and Mandarin as well as an English-immersion program for non-English speaking students. The programs will start next fall."

    "The school district looked at several possible languages, including Arabic, Russian and Korean, but chose Mandarin for the new program based on demand, said Karen Kodama, international education coordinator for Seattle Public Schools."

    Great news although it seems like it might be a difficult thing to coordinate both full and partial immersion classes (I don't think John Stanford does it that way- anyone?). As the story notes, the population at Beacon Hill is likely to be more diverse than at John Stanford. Sadly, there are only 380 seats (not a small school but not big). There's likely to be a big competition to get in here.

    Looking ahead, again, the district puts out these programs but needs to follow thru. Meaning, I have heard a few things about which high school will be the feeder school for these immersion schools (after all, after Hamilton, where will they go?). Someone mentioned Roosevelt but I don't see a lot of enthusiasm coming out for that because of the overcrowding at Roosevelt. I think some parents would go ballistic if there were set-aside seats for a new program. I think a school where there is growing room - Ingraham or Hale or Rainier Beach, for example - might be a better choice.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    A Quick Poll on Getting to School Yesterday

    Late start/snow days are tricky things to call. When it was snowing Monday my son was excited that he might have a late start. He got up and checked the website; no late start so off he trudged (we live two blocks away from school). He gets there and the class had 8 kids. He said gradually, through the first period or two, kids came in and the office finally announced that no kid needed a pink "excused" slip to get to first or second period.

    I heard from another friend her child's bus to Salmon Bay never came and she took her daughter to school.

    Did anyone else have problems?

    I think this was tough to call because we usually get warmer temps to melt it (or at least not freeze it to ice) but it seems like that didn't happen this time.

    Calendar items

    Here are a few interesting items from the Board calendar:

    January 23 - 3:30pm - 5:30pm: Board Work Session: Facilities Master Plan

    This could be illuminating. Is the new FMP as much a botch-job as the current and previous FMP's? There is another work session on the FMP scheduled for February 27. They sure are talking about this thing a lot.



    February 6 - 4:00pm - 8:00pm: Board Workshop: Student Assignment

    I can't wait to see what news after all those months of modelling. What results are there? What are the priorities of the Board members? They have scheduled four hours for this, so I expect it to be pretty meaningful. I expect some real talk about program placement, reference areas, and capacities. I also want to learn the difference between a work session and a workshop.



    February 13 - 4:00pm - 5:30pm: Board Work Session: SE Education Initiative

    Maybe this is when we will finally learn the benchmarks and goals for the accountability elements of the Southeast Initiative.



    March 5 - 4:00pm - 8:00pm: Student Learning Committee - Quarterly Meeting

    Ah!! So this is when the Student Learning Committee will meet. And it appears that the committee will only meet four times a year. I'm sure that's plenty of time for them to get their work done.



    March 12 - 4:00pm - 5:25pm: Board Work Session: High School Math Adoption

    I can't wait to see this decision. Hmmm... what do you think? After Everyday Math in elementary school and CMP II in middle school, do you think the District will want to continue with reform math, or do you think they will expect all of the students to switch to traditional math in high school? I can't wait to learn the answer to that one.



    March 26 - 4:00pm - 5:30pm: Board Work Session: --topic TBD--

    The Board knows that they will want to get together to talk about something on this afternoon. They just don't know what the topic will be.

    Why Olympia's a One-Party Town

    This op-ed was an interesting take on education in Washington state by Lynne Varner of the Times.

    Her premise? There are fewer and fewer Republicans on the Eastside because Eastsiders care about education and don't like what state Republicans have to say. From her piece:

    "Esser's predecessor, Chris Vance, advises Republicans to fall in love with public education. Drop divisive buzzwords like "government schools" and start talking about teachers' pay, accountability and the value of standardized testing.

    "The mistake the GOP has made is that when you attack the teachers union, it comes across as attacking teachers and there is no one more popular than a teacher," Vance says."

    I can't quite agree with the last statement because there's this strange thing of "love the teacher, hate the union". I have seen the teachers' union blamed for everything you can think of (the current one was a post at another blog about the reason for the lack of unity over Denny/Sealth is that they would need fewer teachers and they don't want teachers to lose their jobs. Naturally, this person is uninformed that they would still continue to operate as two separate schools with full staffs so no, there would not be fewer teachers.) I think the teachers' union only wishes it were as powerful as some think they are.

    School-Family Partnership Advisory Committee

    Still no word on who has been appointed to the School-Family Partnership Advisory Committee. Nominations were due on November 16. The Committee's web page says that they are currently "looking to recruit more members".

    I have an email from Caprice Hollins dated December 27 in which she tells me that they have nominees, have selected the recommended names and "Mr. Ruiz and I are now... taking those names to Carla and the Superintendent for a final decision"

    Mr. Ruiz is Bernardo Ruiz, the new Coordinator of Family and Community Engagement. You might not know that, however, because his name, title, and contact information do not appear anywhere on the Family Involvement pages of the District web site - not even on the Contact page.

    I don't get any of this.

    Troubling Times for Southend Teens

    I had meant to post about this issue and then this article appeared in today's PI. The issue?

    "In the past four months, three teenagers -- all with ties to the Central District -- have been shot to death in killings that police are increasingly attributing to gang violence. The most recent was 14-year-old De'Che Morrison, who bled to death behind a car in Rainier Valley on Thursday, shot in the abdomen."

    At least 2 of the boys attended Cleveland High at some point. All 3 had gang affiliations in some way. Here's what De'Che's father had to say:

    "He was just a freshman in high school," Scott said. "All this stuff happened so fast, only in the last few months. A few weeks ago, I sat him down and we had a long talk. I could see in his face that he was tired, that he'd had enough of the streets. He said, 'Dad, I want to go back to school.'

    Tired of the streets by 14? It's heartbreaking.

    From the police:

    'Gang investigators say teens are drawn to such Web sites as MySpace, where self-professed gangsters pose, often with sexy women at their side.

    "There is so much access to the Internet and MySpace, and the glorification of gangs is there for them to see," said Lt. Ron Wilson, who heads the Seattle Police Department's gang unit."

    This I would believe. If you feel unloved or insecure and there are people your age (or older - we all remember the lure of the "older" kids in high school) and you see them on MySpace looking great and having guns, maybe it's tempting. At that age you feel invincible.

    There's a lot that ties this to all of us because, of course, nothing happens in a vacum. We all know if it had been 3 north-end boys killed in 4 months, there'd be a huge outcry. (This is not to say that people don't care or don't notice but somehow we accept it as a south-end problem.)

    The City of Seattle has joined some other big cities and the association of mayors to file a friend of the court opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court uphold Washington D.C.'s long-time ban on handguns in a case currently before the Court. This is one of the first tests for the Second Amendment that has appeared before the Court. Seattle, and the other major cities, say that they bear a disproportionate share of the outcomes of gun violence. What the Court decides by summer will likely affect every single person in the U.S.

    We have too many guns in this country, both legal and illegal. The genie's out of the bottle and there's no going back. But can we limit access to what's out there? Make it harder for teens to get guns, whatever the reason (suicide, gang violence, etc.)? Chris Rock has a crude, profane and terrifically funny DVD of one of his HBO specials where he rants about guns and gun violence. He says we should make each bullet cost $5,000. Why? Because then there'd be no innocent bystanders. People who wanted to kill each other would have to get a second job and save up for that one bullet. He's very funny when he says this but at a certain level he's right. Can't control the guns? Control the ammo.

    Another issue for us, closer to home, is the assignment period we are now in for SPS. How does it relate to gang violence in the south-end? Well, if you had the choice and the opportunity, wouldn't you want your high school student at a school where that is less likely to happen? Yup and you'd likely go north. I had thought that maybe with Garfield reopening and the Southeast Initiative in full swing that maybe Roosevelt and Ballard might not be so popular. I think it's wishful thinking because safety trumps every other concern for a parent. And, given that Hale is going to take 3 years to renovate and be on-site (not a particularly great selling point) and that Roosevelt is likely to take fewer freshman, it's going to be a tough year for assignments.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    Interesting Stats

    I was searching around for information on school construction and found this website.

    It had all kinds of interesting information. Here are a few stats of interest:

    The average according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core Data for the 2005-06 school year:

    • Primary schools – 377 students
    • Middle schools – 630 students
    • High schools – 1249 students
    Definition of a large school
    • Elementary school - 850 students
    • Middle School - 1,220 students
    • High School - 2,000 students
    Definition of a small school
    • Elementary Schools (1-6): 25 students per grade level; total enrollment - 150
    • Elementary Schools (1-8): 25 students per grade level; total enrollment - 200
    • Middle Schools (5-8): 50 students per grade level; total enrollment - 200
    • High Schools (9-12): 75 students per grade; total enrollment - 300

    The Council of Educational Facility Planners International indicates that many states use the following site formulas:

    Elementary Schools = 10 acres plus 1 acre for every 100 students;
    Junior High/ Middle Schools = 20 acres plus 1 acre for every 100 students;
    Senior High Schools = 30 acres plus 1 acre for every 100 students

    According to American School and University's Education Construction Report and School Planning and Management's School Construction Report the average costs for school construction in 2006 were as follows:

    Elementary school
    - Cost/ sqft: $137.00, Cost/Student $16,010, Total cost: $9,606,000 (600 students) *
    - Cost/ sqft: $148.15, Cost/Student $18,333 Total cost $11,600,000 (700 students) **

    Middle school
    - Cost/ sqft: $110.00, Cost/Student $21,684, Total cost: $17,347,000 (800 students)*
    - Cost/ sqft: $149.79, Cost/Student $21,469, Total cost: $18,000,000 (825 students)**

    High school
    - / sqft: $169.00, Cost/Student $30,000, Total cost: $30,000,000 (1000 students)*
    - Cost/ sqft: $151.52, Cost/Student $26,111, Total cost: $35,000,000 (1200 students)**

    Not That Anything Will Change but Later Start Times Get Better Results

    This article about later start times in high schools appeared in the NY Times and was reprinted in the Seattle Times. The author, Nancy Kalish, makes many good points including:
    • better attendance, both in students being there and being on-time
    • lower dropout rate
    • fewer teen car crashes
    • higher scores on standardized tests
    She also points out:

    "So why hasn't every school board moved back that first bell? Well, it seems that improving teenagers' performance takes a back seat to more pressing concerns: the cost of additional bus service, the difficulty of adjusting after-school activity schedules and the inconvenience to teachers and parents. But few of those problems actually come to pass, according to the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota. In Kentucky and Minnesota, simply flipping the starting times for the elementary and high schools meant no extra cost for buses. Nor have after-school jobs and activities been affected as anticipated. And though team practices and matches might have to start a bit later, student participation has usually stayed the same."

    As well:

    "Massachusetts has opened more than a dozen "expanded learning time" schools, which add about three hours to the school day. Students spend additional time on such subjects as math and English, but also enjoy plentiful art, music, physical education and recess -- all of which are being slashed at many schools.

    Also, why not make sure there's built-in time for doing homework? That way, children could get their work done at school where professionals can help them, freeing them to spend time with their families when they do get home."

    My experience with Hale is that my son felt more alert (self-reported) and the teachers said students seemed to "be there" more during the early periods. All of this would take organization but the benefits seem mighty.

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    The Final Word on John Marshall

    This article appeared in today's Times about the final outcome for the programs at John Marshall.

    All the programs will be dispersed or closed. There was no mention of what will happen to the building which has quite a large nursery in it.

    The re-entry program will be moved to Wilson-Pacific along with "Interim Alternative Education Setting, a program for students who get in trouble for doing something that is "a manifestation" of their disability". The Evening School will move to Franklin while the Teen Parent program will move to South Lake High School. The small (12 student) alternative school there will close and student in a behavior-intervention program will disperse to other schools.

    I'm not surprised by any of this movement; it seemed clear the district didn't want to keep things going at John Marshall. It is too large a building for so many small programs. I do wish that they could keep the teen parent program there as the city is big enough to have two and the South Lake program is down in the Rainier Valley to the south. The district spent a good chunk of change putting in that childcare at Marshall.

    Uncool Moms - Unite!

    This article appeared in the Seattle Times via the Washington Post. Here's what happened:

    "Jane Hambleton, 48, gained a worshipful parental following after news of a classified ad she had placed in The Des Moines Register was picked up by The Associated Press. The text of the ad:

    "OLDS 1999 Intrigue. Totally uncool parents who obviously don't love teenage son, selling his car. Only driven for three weeks before snoopy mom who needs to get a life found booze under front seat. $3,700/offer. Call meanest mom on the planet."

    Sold! Hambleton, a radio DJ in Fort Dodge, Iowa, received some 70 calls from buyers.

    And other parents. And emergency-room workers. And school counselors. And scores of others wanting to congratulate her for being so Dirty Harry awesome."

    And her son is 19 and she still stuck to her guns! He said the liquor belonged to a "friend" but mom stuck to her guns.

    I've gone to some meetings for the Northeast Seattle Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking and it's been disturbing to hear police officers and counselors say how many parents try to underplay or deny their teen's drinking. Good for this mom.


    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    Various Topics

    Various Topics

    Here are a few thoughts and questions I have had lately on various topics.

    1. When is the Student Learning Committee going to meet? All of the other Board committees have meetings scheduled – Executive, Finance, and Operations – but there is no meeting yet scheduled for the Student Learning Committee.

    2. The Board and Community Engagement. There were four action items on the agenda for the Board’s January 9 meeting. Community Engagement element is not included on one of them (Board Bylaws). On two others, the community engagement comes after the Board’s approval of the motion.

    3. The Board and Community Engagement II. The Board (with the exception of Board President Chow) appeared to value community engagement at the Denny/Sealth work session, but their decisions on Denny/Sealth will be a truer reflection of how much they really value it.

    4. Director Chow and Community Engagement. While I find Director Chow's candor about her disinterest and disregard of community engagement refreshing and honest, I cannot support it.

    5. Southeast Initiative Accountability Measures missing. Where are the accountability measures for the Southeast Initiative? They were supposed to have been determined by September. What are they? According to the Framework adopted by the Board:
    "To provide schools with clear objectives, the District (in consultation with each school in Summer 2007) will also establish a rigorous accountability process that will set school-specific program goals (for Fall 2010) in the following areas:

    Enrollment Growth
    % of First Choice
    Increased Academic Achievement
    Student and Teacher Climate Survey Results
    Attendance
    "

    And what if a school meets 4 of the 5 benchmarks, or 3 of the 5 or 2 or 1? What then?

    6. Planned Planning. There are a lot of plans floating around, but I've noticed that nearly all of the plans are not action plans, but plans for making plans. These include the Entry Plan, the Strategic Framework, the plan to use McKinsey & Company, the Strategic Framework they will write, the new Facilities Master Plan, the Southeast Initiative, the plan for writing a new Assignment Plan complete with a plan to do wholesale revision of program placement. None of these are, themselves, action plans. For all of this planning, I see very little action planning – let alone planned action.

    7. Unplanned Action. Meanwhile, most of the action that I see the District doing is actually unplanned. These include the decision to surplus M L King (with no plan for the property), the decision to semi-merge Denny and Sealth (with no academic plan).

    8. Planned Confusion. I can no longer keep track of all of the Superintendent's plans. Is she still moving forward with her Entry Plan or has it been scrapped? I think it has been scrapped. I think the plan to reconfigure APP has been scrapped, but how will it constrain the New Assignment Plan if APP can't be moved? Will the District continue to follow the Strategic Framework or has it been scrapped? The Superintendent praises it on her web page, but McKinsey and Company are going to help her replace it. Are all plans on hold until we hear from the McKinsey and Company consultants? When we have their plan will we stick to it? Do we still plan to change the Student Assignment Plan or will that plan be pushed out yet another year?

    9. Construction confusion. I'm really confused by the pattern of construction work done at Sealth. Read the plan for the building in the BEX III project and compare that list of planned improvements to the work done – just three years ago – in BEX II. BEX III will re-do a number of elements that are less than five years old. Then compare them to the work that THIS BOARD just accepted as completed on December 19, 2007 under BTA II:

    Re-roofing at main building
    Add parking lot lights
    Partial window system replacement
    Partial window glazing replacement
    Replace existing fire alarm system
    Mechanical Systems refurbishment
    Patch and repair concrete at exterior walls
    Re-paint and re-seal main building exterior
    Partial floor and ceiling replacement
    Remodel science classrooms
    Remodel Audio/Visual lab
    Little Theater Improvements
    Administrative offices remodel
    Staff and student bathroom remodel
    New security camera system

    Again, a number of the elements to be replaced in BEX III are less than five years old. What is the sense in this? Where is the planning?

    Saturday, January 12, 2008

    Education Week's Survey of States

    Education Week released its findings comparing education in the 50 states to the national average. Washington got a C. Dr. Bergeson says we are in the middle (hooray) but seem to be plateauing. The top states are Mass., New Jersey, New Hampshire, Conn., and Vermont. I'll let you read the article but here are a few highlights:
    • what area did we do the worst in? Equity and spending indicators, of course. We got a D+ (compared to a national average of C+). We are 44 out of 50 for funding in the U.S. Our worst is spending where we are at 52.7% compared to a national average of 70.3. We spend an average of $7,432 to a national average of $8,973.
    • oddly, it states that Washington state has no school program to reduce or limit class size (maybe initiatives don't count?)
    • we have no state definition of school readiness (13 states do), no school readiness assessment (17 states have it) and no school readiness intervention (21 states do)
    • One good thing is our AP scores are higher than the national average and so are the numbers of students taking them
    • we got a B- on our assessments but only rank 31st

    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Denny/Sealth (Continued)

    Below is an e-mail I sent to the Board and Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson today based on what I heard at the BEX III Oversight Committee meeting this morning. As you will see, there are just huge problems with this project that the Committee easily recognized and were troubled by. This is the Board's first real challenge and it will need to handled well and quickly because future bond/levy measures and their success may rest on their decisions.

    Dear Board Members,

    I attended the BEX III meeting today (or rather, the first hour and a half where Denny/Sealth were discussed). There were any number of eye-opening issues raised that you should be aware of in the continuing discussion of Denny/Sealth.

    First and probably foremost from the new members' viewpoints is the issue that staff (Don Gilmore) gave a presentation to the BEX III Oversight Committee that had been tweaked and added extra slides that the Board did not see. (Members of the Committee were handed the same presentation you received but the slides presented were different.) There was new information, tweaked information and changed information. For example,
    • page 7 -Remodeling Benefits had added benefits to it.
    • page 8 - The Summary page was different.
    • page 13 - Under Required Improvements under Academic, it was changed from "classroom improvements" to "academic programs"
    • page 24 - Option 2, the added budget was put at only $5M and not $5-10M as presented to the Board
    • page 25 - Option 3 - had an added red box that I could not read from where I sat but was not on the Board presentation (Mr. Gilmore also said that under Option 3, Denny would incur the costs of moving to Boren but did not explain why)
    • in addition, Mr. Gilmore, in referencing option 3 said that Denny would cost $97M and Director de Bell had to remind him that he had told the Board $102M
    I pointed this out to Director de Bell and Mr. Gilmore said only the Options pages had been changed. I told him there were other pages changed and he said he forgot about them.

    I'm not going to presume to tell you what to do but if it were me and staff gave a different presentation to another group where they changed figures and added ideas, I would not be happy. You, of all the parties involved, as elected officials, need the most clear and full picture. It was not explained why the presentations were different. Are there substantial differences? You'd have to judge but "classroom improvements" is not the same as an "academic program" and $5M isn't chump change.

    Beyond that, there was clear confusion over what the staff was saying. Director de Bell, again as in the Work Session, laid out a thoughtful and careful picture of the concerns such as the academic benefits to co-joining the buildings, the lack of staff buy-in from Sealth, the lack of buy-in from some Sealth students who fear their high school experience will change with the additional of a middle school and that the open choice system would have some effect or could be affected by this plan.

    Committee members asked about the community input and were told by staff, as in the Work Session, that this particular project did not have the longer and lengthy input as other projects due to closure and consolidation. The public process was put at about "one month".

    One new slide called a Fact Sheet said that the money would divide up as Denny $75M and Sealth $50M which is not how it came across in the Board presentation. It also showed a 29% escalation in costs over the next 3 years which is a figure I have a hard time buying.

    Another sheet projected costs for future BEX projects. It was jaw-dropping in two ways. It said that Rainier Beach and Ingraham would be renovated. (As a side note, I asked Facilities last January about renovating all the high schools and they said yes, that was there plan but then, as now, there is no reference to Nova.) The costs they projected on this sheet were $250M EACH. So in less than 25 years, the cost to renovate RBHS and Ingraham will be double AND Sealth won't get renovated for at least 30 years.

    Meaning, every other comprehensive high school in Seattle will get a total renovation except Sealth. What they get now will have to last for 25 years at least.

    Director de Bell pointed out that normally the staff at a school is very excited about a new project and Sealth's staff is unhappy. He said that Director Stewart had advocated this project and he seemed to suggest that she had community support all around for it. This is likely to have been true because people probably believed Sealth would be getting the West Seattle High School treatment.

    One Committee member, Mark Maloy, who works in King County said that it is not all that unusual for projects to be changed and reworked and cited the 9th/Jefferson building. Other members said if anything were changed it should be sooner rather than later.

    The head of the Committee, Ed Peters, in discussing the options said that he thought Option 2 HAD been what he was voting for. Clearly, many voters did not clearly understand what they were voting for and whether the District via Schools First told 45,000 households, Seattle is made up of many more than 45,000 households.

    There was discussion about the most flexible use you can get from projects. To my mind, two buildings, whether down the street or on the same property are more useful that a co-joined building particularly one that is joined at the cafeteria (in the galleria).

    There was also discussion over where the money would come from for Option 2 in order to make Sealth feel they were getting something out of this project. Karin Nyrop said that they could NOT take money from other projects as had been done in BEX II. Mr. Stephens said the Superintendent and CFO had some ideas and were discussing it. Ed Peters said they would want to see the dollar figure first before signing off on Option 2. He said that Option 2 seemed to give the most long-term upgrade for Sealth and would satisfy people's day-to-day satisfaction. Ed Peters said whatever option they did it needed to take care of the needs for Sealth for the next 25 years.

    John Palewicz, another Committee member, seemed perplexed by whether the issue was academic co-joining or Sealth not getting a better building. He said that needs to be made clear.

    Committee members seemed to agree with Director de Bell that they needed community buy-in from staff and the larger community.

    I asked to speak and told them that as co-president of Roosevelt High School I knew that our school had not been designed with many security measures. (Indeed, I spoke briefly with Michael Tolley after the Work Session and he mentioned concerns about Cleveland, another brand-new building, as well.) I said that the galleria was a 250-foot security nightmare that needed to be able to be closed off not only in the middle but at either end as well as the bridge above it. The District has to have safety in mind in these school designs and not leave schools unsecured. Roosevelt is now grappling with how to lock off our gym area during games so people don't freely roam the school. With the project for Denny/Sealth you are creating a community of 2100 students plus staff and, with the galleria, the ability for anyone in a bad mood to easily get from one community to another. I urge you to ask any police officer or district security officer about this issue.

    Please feel free to ask Director de Bell about the veracity of any of my statements about what was said at the meeting.

    It is clear that this project is a mess. My best guess is that Facilities needed to get Denny redone but had the problem of Sealth's aging boiler and the issue of doing Denny before Sealth with them being down the street from each other were problems. They joined the projects hoping to get enough done at Sealth and hoping no one at Sealth would notice that they were not getting the Roosevelt, Cleveland, Ballard, Garfield, or West Seattle treatment.

    There is no clear academic plan for this project, just a vision of a unified curriculum and shared facilities. There is not majority unity from both schools. (No one is looking, as Director Chow said, for 100% buy-in but you risk a lot by going ahead without staff buy-in.) Sealth, in the voters' pamphlet was grouped with Hale as getting a renovation while Rainier Beach and Ingraham were grouped as getting improvements. Anyone would have believed, looking at the work done at high schools renovated in the past, that Sealth would be getting a renovation and not improvements. As I mentioned, a slide was put forth showing that RBHS and Ingraham are planned to be renovated (with Ingraham already having over $26M in renovations from BEX 2 and 3 and Rainier Beach already having renovations of about $7M from Bex 1 and 3) at a cost of $250M each.

    How do you think Sealth will feel when they find out they will be, by say, 2025, the only non-renovated high school in the District?

    The Committee recommended immediate community engagement in as many ways as possible. Facilities could have avoided this problem by doing the work SOONER and not letting closures sidetrack it. The money lost is their fault because they did not do the front-end work, not because the community is being stubborn. Time is money but you will lose an enormous amount of good will of voters and will leave a bad taste in Sealth's mouth if you proceed without buy-in from the communities involved.

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    I-728 and Dino Rossi

    So who knew? This op-ed appeared in today's PI by Mary Lindquist, a teacher and president of the WEA. It is about - what else - the Legislature fully funding education. But a new wrinkle (at least to me) appeared:

    "Despite the outpouring of public support for the initiatives(I-728 and I-732), Dino Rossi, as Senate Ways and Means chairman, wrote a budget that suspended both initiatives for two years. The will of the voters was ignored. Today, Rossi boasts about that budget on his Web site and on the campaign trail. As a result of that budget, class sizes stagnated and educators lost $680 million in salaries (compounded).

    Today our state has $1.4 billion in budget reserves, nearly half of which came from those cuts in educators' salaries.

    Gov. Chris Gregoire's recent supplemental state budget proposal did not include salary restoration or additional money for class size."

    She sums it up nicely:

    "Washington schools need to offer competitive salaries to attract and retain highly qualified teachers. Students need smaller class sizes so all students receive the kind of individual attention they need to be prepared for college and to enter the work world. We are asking the impossible if we expect schools and educators to prepare students for a more demanding future without investing more in their education today."

    Amen sister.

    Wednesday, January 09, 2008

    Community Meetings on Facilities Master Plan

    The district has posted meeting dates and times to explain the Facilities Master Plan 2020.

    When:
    January 14, 15 and 16
    7 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
    Where:
    Monday, January 14, 2008 at 7 p.m.
    Greenwood Elementary - Library
    144 NW 54th Street
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 7 p.m.
    Meany Middle School - Room 46
    301 21st Ave. E.
    Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 7 p.m.
    Mercer Middle School – Library
    1600 S. Columbian Way
    Contact:
    Eleanor Trainor
    (206) 252-0655

    Seattle Public Schools will hold a series of community meetings on the update of their Facilities Master Plan (FMP).
    The District is in the process of developing a comprehensive 2020 Facilities Master Plan. The planning process is an aggressive effort to outline a systematic schedule of improving Seattle Schools facilities. In addition, the FMP brings together major School District policies, studies, and documents into one plan that guides the future direction of District facilities use, re-use, and/or closure.
    The primary focus of the FMP is to concentrate on major renovations, and building replacements while simultaneously addressing deferred maintenance projects in other school buildings.

    I can say with some authority that this is not a plan but rather a collection of information. It has not changed substantially since the last one despite school closures. It could be a very important document but I think since it is produced because of state regulations rather than being a real working document that it's mostly for show.

    Denny/Sealth Work Session

    I would call the Denny/Sealth Work Session today a snow job except that some of the Board weren't buying it.

    The staff had a very elaborate presentation (the paper they used was a very heavy paper with deep color photos of the Powerpoint presentation - how much could this cost to do?) for the Board.

    They first explained how both projects came about; Denny is quite old in all areas and Sealth's boiler/HVAC system is at the end of its life (and replacing it requires demolition and if they are going to do that drastic of work, they should spiff up the place). Interestingly, they say that the condition between the two high schools in West Seattle is so great that they need to remodel.

    Then they gave an "academic rationale" which was somewhat laughable because all they did was print the Seattle School Board mission, their theory of action, the district's academic vision, some cherry-picked research on 6-12 schools, academic benefits of "span" schools (from the research) and finally how the remodeling supports it.

    Among these benefits were technology upgrades equal to (not similar but equal) to Madison or Roosevelt. (Why those two I don't know except Madison is the only middle school to be rebuilt.) It seems that the Denny/Sealth focus is to include pre-engineering and sports medicine along with the IB at Sealth (it is possible to have middle school IB but that was not mentioned).

    I'll quote the complete summary because many questions arose out of it:

    "The Denny-Sealth 6-12 configuration offers a prime opportunity for two schools to create:
    • a strong,aligned, comprehensive educational program
    • a smooth 6-12 transition that reduces student isolation and achievement gaps
    • a unified professional learning community composed of a 6-12 faculty and administration
    • an opportunity for students and staff to experience the benefits of an updated campus while preserving the integrity of each school on a shared campus"
    So you can almost see the questions forming in the Board members heads. Harium Martin-Morris asked, "Are these two different schools or not?" The answer was they are two schools with separate administrations on a shared campus. He then asked, "Is this what voters thought they were voting on?" He was told that would come in the next section.

    Michael asked Carla about the research about span schools - She said were most unified but not co-located. All the ones she saw had been created as one school and families and staff knew this going in. (This is obviously not true for this case.) She had no research on co-location. She didn't know the real meaning of span school versus dual-schools.

    Steve asked about the communication on this to voters and stakeholders. The reply was that so much focus was on school closures that not as much communication occurred.

    Then there was info on the bond measure and what was presented to the voters. The problem is they showed language from some pamphlet the district mailed to 45,000 households. I didn't see the actual pamphlet but I'm assuming from that number it was to parents. The actual language in the voters' pamphlet is a lot more vague.

    Harium again ask, "Is this what voters voted on?" He was told the explanation of the pamphlet and Peter Maier said that they were not legally obligated to do anything in the voters' guide (basically voters were voting on a pot of money) but hastened to say that it wasn't necessarily true in this case just that he was pointing it out.

    Steve, whose daughter attend Sealth, said that Sealth library is newish and one of the largest in the district and under this plan would get broken up.

    Michael said that he is trying to understand the perception that he gets from e-mails and testimony about Sealth giving up space and that they are not benefiting as much academically from what is proposed.

    This plan would get rid of all their portables always a good thing.

    There was a lot of talk about the long galleria which would join the buildings on the lower floor (with one bridge on the next floor). It is one long Commons which could be separated with a partition for lunch or other events.

    It was also noted that the only Music facilities will be located in Sealth's area and the Denny kids would have to walk through Denny, upstairs to the far end of Sealth to access the Music area.

    So then we looked at the floor plans and the staff presented three options. They said that the current BEX investment had been almost $2M on this project and that they had various permits filed to the City. Construction should begin in July 2008 and be finished by Sep 2011. (I just want to point out that this means Hale, Hamilton, South Shore and Denny/Sealth will all be underway at the same point at the same time. Facilities has never done this before and I can't believe the challenges because of it.)

    So they explained Option 1 as the existing plan with a few additions (oddly, one was partial ADA upgrade - I didn't even think an ADA upgrade could be optional or partial).
    Option 2 is the same thing but with a - surprise! - budget increase to "enhance"Sealth. It would add a new gym floor and bleachers and gym plumbing (hope it's better than Roosevelt's which is rippled and they are going to dry it out this summer and hope it straightens itself out - no kidding), full ADA upgrade, auditorium upgrades, new doors and windows and a new library roof. This would cost $5-10M extra but it wasn't explained where the money would come from. Option 3 is redo the plan for two separate buildings. Sealth would only get a basic improvement package (which is barebones) and Denny would get a basic redo and they would share an existing new performing arts hall. They say this would cost $125+ with Denny costing $100M. (How this could be with Garfield coming in at $100M for a high school?)

    Harium asked about the space at Sealth given the loss of the portables. Staff was forced to count out the rooms gone or repurposed to get a true accounting of space at Sealth.

    At least 2 Board members asked for costs for all three options. Staff demurred but other Board members said they would like to see them as well.

    Michael de Bell thoughtfully laid out his concerns. He said it felt that the speed of the development left the community uncertain and that many did not understand this plan. He said they need community buy-in both from the outside and the inside. He said that Sealth would be out of their building for 2 years and come back with their spaces reconfigured while Denny would stay put in their own building and then move into a brand new building. He said he could see where Sealth would feel slighted. He also said he was concerned with a new assignment plan that people might feel they are being asked to join a 6-12 school rather than just choosing a middle and high school and that it might disrupt the momentum at both schools as they improve.

    Sherry Carr said academic concerns are key to a staff buy-in for the plan.

    Cheryl said she was not comfortable with an "us" versus "them" idea and that they "were all the same kids". I didn't follow that idea as they aren't the same; they are middle and they are high school kids. Cheryl said she was elected to make decisions and that she didn't need 100% buy-in. She said she would be comfortable listening and answering questions but moving on.

    Mary Bass said she felt they needed to make sure that the community had enough opportunities to weigh-in before the election. There was talk throughout the session about hurrying because of money constraints and escalation of costs.

    Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said the next steps are to talk with both staffs, discuss the academic benefits and do more outreach and engagement. Don Kennedy, the new COO/CFO, tried to discourage the idea of option 3 but several Board members said they wanted to see costs on all 3. That ended the meeting.

    Clearly, there are at least of couple of Board members that do not believe the communities, within and outside, clearly understood this idea. I'm not sure I get what it is they are doing on the academic side. It seems like option 2 would be hush money to get Sealth to go along with the plan (which a speaker during the Board meeting said was not what they wanted). I don't think that Sealth believes they are getting much either facility-wise or on the academic side.

    There was also no talk about security. I think that galleria sounds like a situation where you will have any person who wants to able to get into one school and move to another. Roosevelt is just now working on its security because virtually nothing was put in. Cleveland has the same issues. (I spoke with Michael Tolley about this after the meeting and it's a concern of his as well.) I asked Mr. Tolley to follow up on this as it hadn't occurred at Roosevelt or Cleveland and if they building two buildings to be attached it was even more vital because of the numbers of students involved.

    It's disturbing because Cheryl clearly wants to forge ahead but I can see that some Board members are just not going to roll on this one (I believe, in the end, they will all agree to it because that's the way it always plays out but not quickly.)

    The Funding Dilemma

    This excellent op-ed appeared in today's Times by a parent from Adams Elementary, Allison Krupnick. Her premise?

    "The school-funding reality is that your child will have access to as many services as parents are willing and able to provide."

    She starts off talking about how class size is the same (or bigger) since I-728 and then moves on to the issue of PTAs having to back up their school with fundraising or face the problems of larger class sizes. She's pretty frank about her understanding that this isn't even possible for every school. She also makes a point about upcoming tours:

    Though school choice is supposed to be about choosing the best academic fit for your child, I've noticed a disturbing trend — parents are evaluating schools based on how much money is raised by the PTA. One parent even suggested we might be forced to "target" a certain "type" of parent (read financially well-off) to ensure that our funding base continues to grow."

    Here's hoping the Legislature reads this important plea.

    Tuesday, January 08, 2008

    Still Arguing Over AP

    There was an interesting op-ed in this Sunday's PI about AP and gifted students. It was written by Walt Gardner who is identified this way:

    "Walt Gardner taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was a lecturer in the UCLA Graduate School of Education."

    It was a bit confusing because he referenced Washington state but I wasn't sure what his affiliation was to the state.

    He says that presidential candidates aren't talking education (he's right), that the feds don't care (less than $10M a year for the entire country) and that it hurts students who might take AP classes.

    His premise?

    "No one denies that underperforming students deserve special curriculum and instruction to remediate their deficiencies. But a balance has to be struck with the needs of gifted students. Unfortunately, this has not happened in Washington, D.C., or in Seattle. It's not surprising, therefore, that many parents locally feel disaffected."

    He argues:

    "But even AP is now facing a backlash that worries parents and students, who assumed the program gave them a leg up in the cutthroat competition for admission to top-tier colleges. A series of questions about the caliber of instruction have surfaced that were unimaginable just a few years ago. To understand the reasons for the shift in opinion, it's necessary to rewind to 1955 when the College Board developed the program.

    Its purpose then was to allow high school students to earn college credit -- not to buff their college applications. At the time, AP was the preserve of an academic elite. But as pressure slowly began to build to democratize the college admissions process, less able students were encouraged to enroll. The proliferation was further fueled by government subsidies and by the College Board's aggressive promotion, which resulted in a tripling of the program since 1990 alone.

    The result was that admission officers gradually began to lose confidence in the quality of AP courses. This became readily apparent in February 2002, when Harvard University announced that it would grant credit only to those students who scored 5, the highest possible, on the AP exam. In quick order, other marquee-name colleges and universities also raised their cut scores for credit, signaling the beginning of a new era for AP."

    There were interesting comments to this op-ed at the end of the column as well as this letter to the editor printed today:

    "Walt Gardner ("From feds on down, AP students are being neglected") believes that "gifted and talented" students in Seattle Public Schools are underserved and that the solution is dual enrollment (Sunday). Maybe he does not realize that his argument implies that students showing specific academic abilities are more valuable human beings than their "underperforming" peers. Even in strict economic terms, a high school dropout costs society more than a highly gifted student who does not perform to his or her full potential. Wouldn't it be great if we had a nationwide dropout rate of 5 percent for all high school students instead of the reality?

    Additionally, there is a flaw with the solution he proposes: It already exists. For more than 15 years, Washington has had a dual enrollment program for high school students called Running Start, in which students can take classes at local community colleges for free, receiving both high school and college credit. Last year, the P-I reported that about 17,000 -- 10 percent -- of the state's juniors and seniors were enrolled in the program (Amy Rolph, "Running Start gives high-schoolers jump-start on college credit," Oct. 29, 2007).

    Gardner should do his homework.

    Maia Williams
    Nathan Hale High School,
    Class of 2005"

    She's right about Running Start; it exists and is a good program. However, I take issue with her statement - "Even in strict economic terms, a high school dropout costs society more than a highly gifted student who does not perform to his or her full potential." What happened to NO child left behind? Why does it have to be an either/or proposition and why do people continue to frame it in those terms?