Wednesday, August 27, 2008

WASL Scores Released

The 2007 WASL pass rates for schools and districts were released yesterday. Be very careful when drawing conclusions from this data.

There is no attribution analysis that comes with these pass rates, so please remember that there are a number of factors that contribute to a student's results on the WASL and that the school is only a minor factor, not a determining factor. Stronger factors include the student's home and the student's teachers. For example, the pass rates at Chief Sealth High School are markedly higher this year than in previous years. Is that due to a change in the teaching and learning at Chief Sealth or is it primarily due to the recent introduction of International Baccalaureate classes there? Now that Sealth is offering IB classes, the school is attracting more high performing students. The improvement in pass rates at Sealth wasn't caused by a change in the student's classes but a change in the class of student. I remember a few years ago there was a teacher at the African American Academy who, through her personal and heroic efforts, got about 80% of her 4th grade class to pass all three tests. The test results for the 4th grade students in the other class were more like the historical pass rates for the rest of the school and the rest of the school's history. In the following year when the teacher had a third grade class (the AAA looped third and fourth grade), the school's pass rates for 4th graders returned to their usual levels. The pass rate didn't reflect the school's efforts or improvement, but the extraordinary effort of an individual teacher.

Be careful of any trend analysis. I would suggest that instead of comparing this year's 4th grade pass rate with last year's fourth grade pass rate, that you compare it instead with last year's third grade pass rate. Be wary of anyone who touts improvement from one fourth grade class to the next. Those are two different cohorts. If you follow the class of 2013 from the fourth grade in 2005 their pass rates in math have been 59.1% in the fourth grade, 57.0% in the fifth grade, 49.7% in the sixth grade, and 51.4% this past year in the seventh grade. This trend is downward but it may have stopped dropping. In reading that class' pass rates were 77.3%, 76.3%, 67.0%, and 62.3% - a steady and continuing decline. In writing their pass rates were 57.6% in the fourth grade and 72.4% in the seventh grade, a real improvement. Other cohorts have shorter records that we can follow (two or three years instead of four) but their trends are generally flat or down.

Finally, be careful about claims regarding "growth" in the pass rates. According to a press release from the District, the pass rate on the 4th grade writing test "jumped" 20 percentage points at the AAA. First, that compares two different cohorts. These kids didn't take the test as third graders, so there is no pass rate to see change. Second, even after the "jump" the pass rate is a pitiful 46.2% while the District average is 62.6% on that test (down from 66.6% in the previous year). The press release also touts a 20 percentage point "jump" in the pass rates on the 6th grade reading test to 56.8%. The pass rate for these students as fifth graders (neglecting changes in the cohort) was 45.7%. The pass rate district-wide for sixth graders in reading was 70.9%, well above even the improved rates at the AAA. You don't see improvements of 10 or 20 percentage points at schools where the pass rate is above-average because these schools often don't have room for 10 or 20 percentage points of improvement. These "improvements" are often well within the margin for error on the WASL and therefore cannot be regarded at statistically significant anyway. There may not be any actual improvement, it may all be due to assessment error.

I'm not saying these changes in the pass rates aren't real and I'm not saying that increased pass rates aren't good. They are real and increases are good. I'm saying let's not presume any conclusions from them without some attribution analysis - of which there is none.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tree Cutting Must Go Through Permit Process

King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick ruled on Monday that Seattle Public Schools must follow the City's permit process before cutting down about 100 trees at Ingraham High School to make room for an addition at the school. And, if the City denies them permission to cut the trees, the District must abide by that decision.

Let's be clear. The judge's ruling didn't save the trees, it only binds the District to follow the law as it would apply to anyone else and subject their plans to the usual City process of hearings and reviews. There's no telling if these reviews will decide that the trees need to be protected or if the City will allow the District to cut them down.

You can read about it in the P-I here or in the Times here.

What is clear, however, is that the District tried to dodge the permit process and they did it with either the explicit or the tacit approval of the Board.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Stepping Away

Due to a illness in my family, I will be stepping away from blogging for awhile.

I want to sincerely thank Beth for asking me to be part of this blog. Beth has so much integrity and I was glad for the opportunity.

I know that lively and thoughtful discussions will continue on with Beth, Charlie, Michael and whoever else writes here.

I hope all of you continuing reading the blog and getting the message out that it exists because it is the one place in Seattle where parents and others can come and discuss the district. It's good and healthy to make these connections.

Please continue to support Seattle public schools, warts and all. There are good things happening in our schools and they need our support (and tough love).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

High School Credit

Here is a state law, RCW 28A.230.090, which reads, in part:

(4) If requested by the student and his or her family, a student who has completed high school courses before attending high school shall be given high school credit which shall be applied to fulfilling high school graduation requirements if:

(a) The course was taken with high school students, if the academic level of the course exceeds the requirements for seventh and eighth grade classes, and the student has successfully passed by completing the same course requirements and examinations as the high school students enrolled in the class; or

(b) The academic level of the course exceeds the requirements for seventh and eighth grade classes and the course would qualify for high school credit, because the course is similar or equivalent to a course offered at a high school in the district as determined by the school district board of directors.


This is pretty clear. The law says that the credit "shall be given"; it is a positive requirement on school districts - they must do it.

This law isn't new, but Seattle Public Schools does not comply with it. I recently requested high school credit for my daughter for an Integrated I math class she took at Washington Middle School. In response to my petition to the Board, I got this email from Susan Derse':

From: Derse, Susan
Sent: Tue 8/19/2008 2:17 PM
To: Derse, Susan
Cc: Tolley, Michael F; McMinimee, Shannon M
Subject: FW: Petition for high school credit per RCW 28A.230.090

HELLO MY FRIENDS, PLEASE WOULD YOU READ AND OFFER YOUR WISDOM?

Dear Mr. Mas,

Good afternoon. Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson and High School Director Michael Tolley have asked me to respond to your email dated August 12, 2008, in which you petition for high school credit for your daughter, Leila Mas, for the Integrated I mathematics course she took at Washington Middle School during the 2006-2007 school year. During the 2007-2008 school year, the High School Steering Committee formed a Grading Practices sub-committee to examine current grading policies and practices and to offer recommendations to the Steering Committee.

In an earlier email, I shared with you that during the 2007-2008 school year the Grading sub-committee would examine this matter. The sub-committee involved a number of stakeholders, including high school and middle school department heads, counselors and principals in our discussions of the “high school credit for middle school work” issue. We examined RCW 28A.230.090, noting the permissive language of the regulation, provided that “the course is similar or equivalent to a course offered at a high school in the district as determined by the school district board of directors.”

The committee’s recommendations with respect to changes of policy and practice in the area of grading have been examined and discussed by the High School Steering Committee, high school principals, many high school staff, Director Tolley, Chief Academic Officer Carla Santorno, and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Some of the recommendations essentially call for greater fidelity of implementation across the district of existing district procedures and policies. These recommendations are going forward right away.

For recommendations which involve changes to existing policies or practices, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has very correctly requested extensive stakeholder involvement during this coming school year, prior to presenting the proposed changes to the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors. The issue of granting high school credit for middle school course work is part of this second group of recommendations. The High School Steering Committee is friendly to the proposal, contingent on several critical factors. Recommendations of the committee note these requirements:

1. The School Board shall certify that a course taught in middle school is identical to the high school course.

2. The middle school course must be taught by a teacher who meets the criteria for "highly qualified" for teaching the course at the high school level.

3. The final course grade and credit are not automatically added to the high school transcript. Students wishing to include the course credit and grade on their high school transcripts must formally apply to do so within the first five weeks of their freshman year. [The high school counseling office shall provide application to individual students who request them.]

4. The middle school must request an “S” course code be added for each course, and be listed in the course catalog, so that the students’ academic history documents contain the “S” code, which identifies the course as able to receive high school.

Over the course of the next six or seven months, this grading change and other recommendations of the committee will be shared with additional stakeholders, for input. Following extensive stakeholder engagement, we anticipate that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson will present grading policy recommendations to the Board of Directors in spring or summer of 2009, for implementation effective the Fall of 2009. The Grading Committee and High School Steering Committee recommend against making any of the changes in grading policy or practice retroactive.

At current time, the no course has been identified as equivalent between middle and high schools by the Board of Directors. In addition, although the language of the State of Washington’s RCW is permissive on this question, Seattle Public Schools’ Board Policy D46.01 speaks against your petition on behalf of your daughter, Leila. Finally, it is not accepted practice to grant credit to students retroactively. Therefore, your request for high school credit for Integrated Mathematics 1, taken by your daughter while attending middle school, is denied.

Sincerely,

Susan Dersé
-----------------------------------------------------
Principal on Special Assignment

Assistant to the Director for High Schools
scderse@seattleschools.org
MS 32-515
252-0069 w

979-2612 c
"Improvement...is change with direction, sustained over time, that moves entire systems, raising the average level of quality and performance while at the same time decreasing the variation among units and engaging people in analysis and understanding of why some actions seem to work and others don't...Leadership is the guidance and direction of instructional improvement." (Richard F. Elmore)



I have a number of problems with this response, but my first is that I petitioned the Board for the credit, not Ms Derse'. I don't believe it is within her authority to either grant or deny it. The Board retains authority over grading policy and the Board alone - per the state law - makes the determination of which middle school classes qualify for high school credit. It is not for Ms Derse' nor Mr. Tolley nor Ms Santorno nor Dr. Goodloe-Johnson to make that determination.

Second, am I to understand that her committee has spent a year in indecisive inaction on this issue? Am I to believe that they are going to spend yet another year nattering away before they intend to comply with state law? You can read the law for yourself. It isn't that complicated a deal. How in the world are they spending two years on it? Does she get paid for this pace of production? How did she fall into this job?

Third, the three draft criteria listed by Ms Derse' are wrong. She says that the class will have to be "identical", but the law requires the District to award the credit if the class is "similar or equivalent". She would predicate the credit based on the teacher, but the law requires the District to award the credit without any such requirement. The suggestion opens up a whole new field of inequity between schools and opportunities if students at one middle school are eligible for high school credit while students at another middle school are not based on the teacher's C.V. Why must the student apply within the first five weeks of their freshman year? The law says that the District must award credit; it does not grant them any authority to constrain that with time limits. This regulation is not only inconsistent with the law, it is simply capricious. Similarly capricious is the suggestion that the credit cannot be awarded retroactively. The achievement is the same whether the class was taken this year, last year, or the year before. Again, the law requires the District to award the credit and does not grant them authority to find excuses not to.

Once again we see a situation in which Seattle Public Schools believes themselves to be above the law. They feel that they can take their sweet time complying with the law and that they can do it in a manner of their own choosing. I assure you that there are other authorities who have a lot more respect for the law and are more concerned with complaince than the District. I would hate to have to involve those authorities, but the District never wants to do anything the easy way.

Look, this should be a relatively simple matter. The Board just needs to meet for about twenty minutes and agree that the Integrated math classes and the world language classes are similar or equivalent to the same-titled classes in high school and are therefore eligible for credit. They should make the credit available retroactively at least to students who took the classes since the law was enacted. That's it. Why they can't manage this is beyond me. Perhaps someone has to do something to give the issue some urgency in their minds. What could someone do to compel the Board to address this matter and comply with state law? How do you get the District to comply with the law?

If there is anyone out there who is a lawyer and can throw about four hours of work at this, please contact me. I don't see how we can fail to win the case since the District has not complied with the law. If anything, the District's failure to act is all the evidence necessary to demonstrate non-compliance. They haven't decided that the classes aren't eligible, they just haven't decided. After we win you can petition the Court for legal expenses to be paid by the District. Of course, I would hope that we could come to a mutually acceptable resolution without Court proceedings, I just don't think we can bring them to the table without the threat of litigation.

Be the Change You Want to See

The Board says that they want the District Staff to solicit, respond to, and seriously consider public input. They say that, but they won't put any authority or accountability behind it. They also say that they will model the behavior they want to see. So how well does the Board solicit, respond to, and seriously consider public input? Not so well.

The most salient public input the Board gets is the public testimony they hear at their regular legislative meetings. What happens to that public input. What evidence can we find that they listened to it, responded to it, and seriously considered it? The short answer is: little or none.

First, does the Board actually solicit public input? Not so much. You can write to them, send them e-mails or call them on the phone any time you like. I suppose you could also try to schedule an appointment to meet with them, but being available for public input isn't exactly soliciting it. And then there is, of course, the public testimony - up to twenty people are allowed up to three minutes each. You can speak on any topic but those speaking to agenda items go to the front of the queue.

Presumably the Board is working on a new student assignment policy, a new high school math curriculum, and the southeast initiative. They have not done anything to solicit public input on these topics since they were impaneled - other than accept incoming emails on these topics. There have been no "drop-in meetings", no open conversations, no interactive, two-way communication. With two significant exceptions: Director Bass continues to hold community meetings and Director Martin-Morris has his blog and his monthly Saturday morning coffee hours. These two Board members deserve credit for their individual efforts to gather public input.

Does the Board respond to the input they receive? That has not, generally, been my experience. They certainly do not respond to public testimony. At her first Board meeting the Superintendent said that she was tracking public testimony and the responses to public testimony on a database. I'm not sure that is really happening. She said that answers to questions raised in public testimony would be answered and some of them would be answered on the web site. I know that isn't happening. She said that folks from customer service would be at Board meetings to address concerns and complaints and I know that isn't happening.

As it was so it continues to be. People get up at public testimony, they speak for three minutes, and their words pour into the abyss from which there is no return, no response, no nothing. They may as well still be rehearsing the talk in front of their bathroom mirror for all the impact in evidence.

So how does the Board and the Superintendent expect the staff to solicit public input, to respond to public input, and to seriously consider public input when there is no evidence that they are doing so themselves? It's not very sincere, is it?

The only knock on the Superintendent in her Performance Evaluation was inadequate public input on capital projects. The question is, do the Board members recognize how disingenuous and hypocritical they appear or are they actually oblivious to the fact that they are equally guilty of the flaws they find in others? I'm not sure which answer I would prefer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Times Weighs In

Yet another honeymoon comes to an end.

The Seattle Times Editorial Board was in love, Love, LOVE with the new Seattle School Board and I think they wanted to have Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson's baby.

Yeah, well, that may be over.

I don't know why, maybe it was because they crossed the Mayor (the Times's One True Love), or maybe the beer goggles wore off and the Times just woke up and discovered who they were in bed with. Either way, the Times just kicked the Board and the Superintendent out of bed with an editorial in today's paper.

With today's editorial, the Times acknowledges what everyone else in Seattle has long known: Seattle Public Schools - from the bottom to the top - holds public input in utter contempt. They will squash it, suppress it, evade it, ignore it, and reject it at every possible opportunity.

Let's consider the various episodes in reverse chronological order:

INGRAHAM

The District tried to subvert the legal process through a swift little trick, but they didn't get away with it. While a hearing on the trees was scheduled for next week, the District withdrew their applications for building permits. By doing so, they removed the City's regulatory authority over the tree cutting. Their plan was to quickly move forward with the tree cutting and then re-instate the applications without the tree cutting element. Of course there would be no point to actually convene the scheduled hearing since the trees would be down and the discussion would be moot. Fortunately, Save the Trees caught the move and countered nicely with a temporary restraining order.

The tree issue is drawing out some really Orwellian stuff. The District claims that there were a series of public meetings about the Ingraham plan. That is technically true. But the District never told anyone about the public meetings - never said when and where they would be, never said what would be on the agenda, never released any plans. So just how public is a meeting like that? The meetings were only announced long after they were over.

Let's be really clear about a few things here. First, for a local government entity to try an end-run around the legal system in this way is unconscionable. We expect our local government entities to follow the law and comply with regulation - not dodge it. Second, this move was executed following a closed-door meeting with the Board on this subject. That means that the maneuver was done with either the Board's explicit or tacit approval. For our elected representatives to work against the public process in this way is reprehensible. Every one of them is going to have to answer for this someday. It is enough for keep some of them from re-election. Third, there is someone in the Facilities Department who wrote the application for the building permit and included the tree removal as part of it. That guy is NEVER going to do that again. The next time the District wants to cut down a forest and pave over it they are just going to do it before anyone can complain about the plan.

Here's the weird thing. The District may actually be right. Their plan may actually be environmentally sensitive, it may actually provide better habitat, better soil and water conservation, more greenery, and more canopy cover. It may actually be an excellent solution all the way around the track. But that doesn't matter because they have demonstrated such little confidence in the merit of their decision that we cannot have confidence in the merit of their decision.

THE SUPERINTENDENT'S EVALUATION

The Board conspired to preclude public scrutiny and public discussion of the Superintendent's Evaluation. They did everything they could do to prevent anyone from asking questions about it or looking into it. It was held off the agenda until the last minute, they violated their Policy, their Bylaws, and their Affirmation of Responsibility by presenting it for introduction and action at the same Board meeting. They have withheld the supporting documents and continue to withhold supporting data. They refused to discuss the motion at all prior to voting and they have continued to refuse to discuss the motion to this day.

DENNY / SEALTH

Even after every stakeholder group came out in opposition to the relocation of the Denny Middle School on the Chief Sealth high school campus, the staff continued to push forward with the plan and the Board approved it. The inadequacy of the community engagement was universally acknowledged, yet they went forward with it. There are no academic benefits anticipated from this co-location. There are no cost savings to be had from this co-location. There was no consideration of public input in this process.

OTHERS

What happens to public testimony at Board meetings? Is it tracked? Does anyone respond to it? I don't think so. The Superintendent, at her first Board meeting said that all public testimony would be tracked. She said that even people who signed up to speak but didn't get on the list would be tracked. She said that customer service staff would be at Board meetings to address complaints. She said that there would be a response from the staff for every person's testimony. None of these things are happening. How can the Board expect the staff to listen to public input, seriously consider public input, and respond to public input when they don't do it themselves? I thought the Board was supposed to model the behavior for the staff. I guess they do.

Does the superintendent respond to her public input? Is there any evidence that she seriously considers it? Isn't she also supposed to model behavior, accountability, culture, and customer service for the staff? And the same for her "C" level executives. When was the last time you got a response to a question or a concern from Ms Santorno or Mr. Kennedy?

There are other examples. Please remember that this Board has been impaneled for only nine months and the Superintendent has been in office for only about a year. They have racked up some big ones very quickly.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Denny/Sealth revisited

As a result of the kerfuffle over the BEX III project at Ingraham I found myself at the BEX III web site where I was tempted to click on the links to Denny/Sealth. Once there, I took a trip down memory lane on the Q & A from the February 4th public meeting. It's a funny thing, but here it is August, six months later, and they STILL haven't answered some of those questions. If I didn't have perfect faith in the District and the Facilities staff, I might fear that they never will.

Just the same, I am curious about when they intend to answer these questions. Maybe if we could just get a timeline... Ah! And when exactly is the start time for that speedskating race in Hell?

I think all you have to do is look at their record. Who is being held accountable for this? Is it the outside communications company that was hired to do the community engagement?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

School Board Meeting on Wednesday

The agenda for the upcoming School Board meeting this week (Wednesday at 6p.m.) is rather light. This might be good given that I suspect there will be a larger than normal sign-up for the speakers list (me included). I hope the Board and the Superintendent have tough skins because there are likely to be a lot of slings and arrows directed their way because of the recent unhappiness over their plans for the cutting of trees at Ingraham.

(As an aside, I had been reading the BEX III Oversight Committee agenda for August and saw that a presentation had been made by Pacific Communications - a company doing work for the district and, I think, being paid by the Alliance - about a construction outreach program. I asked to see that presentation but sadly, it's not available online but the legal department did send me a hard copy. Naturally, I had to request this through them because of the still-continuing policy of Facilities to never give out information without forcing you to go through Legal.

This presentation was done on August 8th and the tree issue was quite hot then. This document doesn't reflect one word on SEPA or environmental concerns. I was quite surprised given the situation that BEX finds itself in today - arguing with both Denny/Sealth communities and Ingraham communities - over environmental issues.)

The Consent agenda is a lot of basic items one of which is accepting an over $800,000 program reserve from BEX II projects. Interesting.

The only Introduction item is for the Board to consider changing the Attendance/Participation and Grades policy. As usual, the actual report for the item isn't on the website (sigh) but it says it will be on Monday the 18th. I believe the basic issue is using lack of attendance/participation when grading but that the district hasn't done this in a uniform manner. Here is what the policy is in the School Board area. But here is what is included in the agenda in consideration of this item. I believe the language in red is what is under consideration.

This item also includes a report (dated April 2008) from a committee about attendance improvement and truancy reduction. It has some sobering facts. For example,
  • this is yet another problem of the VAX because of its delicate condition. Apparently, it is difficult to get information about absences and truancies directly to the schools.
  • the middle school with the highest number of students with 2 or more truancies is Denny (pop 629) with 191 and second was Aki Kurose (pop 465) with 182 students. The lowest were Washington (pop 1038) with 26 followed by Whitman (pop 931) with 38. Interestingly, middle schools with more students who signed an SAA (Student Attendance Agreement) had fewer truancies, suggesting that that particular intervention may have helped.
  • in high school, Franklin has the highest number of 2+ truancies with 461, followed by Ballard with 454. Roosevelt was the lowest at 121 followed by Hale at 124
The committee had some recommendations:
  • a return to using the "E" grade
  • telling the High School director to tell schools that they cannot legally use non-attendance only in the grading of a student
  • provide schools with a notice of intent for how to lawfully consider these factors in grades
  • focus on truancy in the grade levels where it is the biggest problem; 8,9,10.
  • coordinate with Metro so that school start times align with Metro schedules so that students have the best chance of getting to school on-time (without having to get there an hour early to do it)
  • Thursday, August 14, 2008

    Metrics for the Southeast Initiative

    Hello


    I have been meaning to do this for quite sometime, but I just found my copy of this. There are concrete metrics that Rainier Beach, Cleveland, and Aki Kurose are going to be held accountable to. These metrics will be used to determine if the SE Initiative is a success or failure.

    There are 4 Academic Milestones, each with multiple Academic Achievement Metrics. I don't know how this will come across, since I am copying an Excel Spreadsheet, but here are the metrics:

    Academic Milestone Academic Achievement Metric
    Cross-Milestone 1-1 Annual Enrollment
    2-1 Annual Average Attendance
    9th Graders Ready for High School 3-1 On-time 9th graders earning at least five credits (%)
    10th Graders Passing WASL 4-1 Reading WASL (%)
    4-2 Math WASL (%)
    4-3 Writing WASL (%)
    4-4 Science WASL (%)
    4-5 Met AYP
    Students Ready for College & Work 5-1 Graduates meeting college credit requirements (%)
    5-2 On-time cohort graduation rate (%)
    5-3 Graduates enrolling in a post-secondary educational program (%)

    I can't speak to what the goals for Cleveland and Aki Kurose are, I can only speak about Rainier Beach High School. The data is created by the Research, Evaluation, and Assessment Department.

    In the 2010-2011 school year, the goals for RB is an enrollment of 500 with average annual attendance of 88%. In 2007 - 2008 we had 361 students with an average annual attendance rate of 81%.

    In 2010 - 2011, RB should have 74% of the 9th graders earning at least 5 credits. In 2007 - 2008, 64% of the freshmen earned at least 5 credits.

    In the 2010 - 2011 year, the goal is for 87.1% meet the WASL standard in Reading, 81.2% meet it in Math, 87.1% meet it in writing, 35% meet it in Science and we need to make AYP. For 2006 - 2007 those numbers are 70% in Reading, 37% in math, 72% in writing, and 11% in science. We made AYP in 2006 - 2007.

    The data for Students Ready for College and Work is not complete. My copy of the spreadsheet says that the 2010 – 2011, the goal for on-time graduation is 80%. In 2006 - 2007, that number was 64%. The other two metrics were not filled in. Im sure it is because the data had not been complied. Given the fluid nature of the student body at RB, I'm sure this is very hard to do.

    These are pretty lofty goals. I like the idea of having something that we can wrap our arms around and understand. I don’t know if we are going to make all of them. I know the staff and administration at RB are fully committed to this. My initial thought is that 3 years really is not a long enough period of time to determine success or failure, since in 2010 – 2011, this years’ 6th graders will only be in the 8th grade. I would of liked to have seen a 6 year commitment, so any student who is entering Aki this fall, would have the benefit of the SE Initiative for his or hers entire secondary education. Maybe there will be enough success so that 3 years from now, this program will be renewed and expanded to include all the schools in the SE and we can make real progress in closing the achievement gap and the enrollments are RB, Cleveland and Aki have increased.

    The Lorax Strikes Back

    Following up on Charlie's post, the PI had an article today on the tree grove at Ingraham.

    "A grove of trees near Ingraham High School received an 11th-hour reprieve Wednesday when a King County Superior Court judge ordered a temporary hold on school district plans to fell them."

    "Chief Civil Judge John Erlick's decision Wednesday afternoon bars the district from felling the trees until Aug. 27 at the earliest and gives neighbors a chance to seek a permanent restraining order against removing the trees. Erlick also ordered the neighborhood group to pay a $7,500 bond to offset damage to the district if its case is found not to have merit."

    The district now has some new things to say about why they withdrew their city permit request, things they never said before.

    "District officials say they plan to cut 63 trees to make way for an expansion of Ingraham High School. The district had applied for city permits to build a new wing at the school but has since withdrawn the request. The district plans to submit the request after it has felled the trees.

    Zemke and other critics of the plan have argued that the district doesn't believe it will be granted city construction permits if the project includes the tree removal. But the city can't stop the district from removing the trees before applying for building permits.

    Addressing Judge Erlick, school district attorney Shannon McMinimee said the district was "trying to avoid a gray area" when it withdrew the permits."

    Additionally, the district spokesperson says there's "ambiguity" in the city ordinance.

    Really? Tell us more and, in particular, tell us why there was no mention of this previous to this hearing.

    Or is it that the district was trying to an end run around BOTH the neighborhood and the city.

    Also, just to add to this, there was a meeting in West Seattle (reported at the West Seattle blog) about the Denny/Sealth project (one issue was what is going to happen to the Denny property). The West Seattle blog had a conversation about getting notification of hearings relating to projects with Ron English, who is a district legal counsel as well as Property Manager: From the blog:

    "We also asked English where appeal hearings like the one in this case are posted for public access. Short answer to a long discussion - they’re not. He says the public certainly COULD attend - but public comments are not allowed, and the district considers them to be something of an “appellate court” type proceeding, and doesn’t post notice of them. Not ANYWHERE, we pressed - not even if we came down to district headquarters and combed through stacks of paper somewhere. No, he repeated. We pointed out that court calendars are publicly accessible in most jurisdictions where we have worked, often online, and if not online, then you can at least go to the courthouse and see what’s posted for the day. He eventually allowed that he “wished” they provided public notice. We will follow up on this one, as it doesn’t seem quite right for a publicly funded entity to be conducting this type of public business without the public having any way of finding out about it." (italics mine)

    And so, what is stopping Facilities from posting this information? Nothing. Nothing but their own stubborn belief that they and only they know what is "best" for this district. It's just plain crazy talk.

    Then there was this in the article:

    "Meeting attendee Susan McLain added, “Our concern is that the decision has already been made, that the intention is that this (the Denny site) will be more of the athletic center, more citywide fields that don’t truly serve the local schools and the community.”Sundquist said, “I’m not cynical enough yet at the 8-month mark of my term to believe it’s all been decided.” But he also said he doesn’t know why the timeline is so tight, but he expects the school district to enter discussions from the standpoint of wanting to hold the land for a possible future school some years down the road, as its properties on the West Seattle peninsula don’t have as much room." (italics mine)

    Don't worry, Steve, you'll get there. And yes, you should wonder, why the district is ALWAYS in a "hurry-up" mode on their timelines. And, yes, the district (via Facilities) likely has already decided what they want to do with the Denny property and are already doing their best to line up their ducks to make it so. Thank goodness, West Seattlites are a feisty bunch who do their homework.

    This Is Why High School Choice Should Continue (and Why the SE Initiative Can't Solve Everything)

    The PI has been running a two-part series on young men and gangs throughout the region. In the second part published today, they examine the scattershot approach across the board from public entities. There was also a sobering letter to the editor about the first part of this series which I believe reflects how many people feel (frustrated).

    From the article:

    "Common wisdom holds that kids involved with gangs are long gone from school, unseen and vanished into street life. But James, a sophomore at Cleveland High last year, would disagree. To him, they were everywhere, congregating in the halls, getting high just outside the building, urging him to step into their circle.

    At 16, he loved sports - track, in particular - and while he clearly feared parental wrath, he could not help pulling away from a mother frantic to keep him safe. Almost from the day school began last fall, James was torn between worries about where gang life might lead and his equally powerful wish to join, to belong.

    It would happen when teachers sent him into the hallway for being disruptive in class. There, he was besieged.

    "They keep pressuring me because I know people from both sides," the lanky boy said, his eyes downcast and his sneakered foot tapping incessantly. "We start walking and talking and I don't go back to class."

    "You should get put on," they kept urging. "You should join up."

    Finally, James' mother - who insisted that his full name not be published for fear of retaliation - made plans to enroll her son at another school this fall. There had been six fights and assaults serious enough that Cleveland security officers wrote reports, and rumors of a drive-by shooting last winter rerouted all school bus pickups to the rear of the building for the remainder of the year."

    There is so much going on here, it's hard to know where to start.
    • How are these kids, who are not enrolled at Cleveland getting in and being allowed to roam the halls? (We have 3 security officers at Roosevelt so I know Cleveland has them as well. That said, I hardly ever see the officers in the halls and Cleveland probably has its hands full.)
    • If a teacher sends a kid out, he or she should check at the office after class or at the end of the day to see if they made it there. If not, follow up.
    • If James joined the track team, he would be belong somewhere.
    From the article:

    "In the wake of a bloody 2008 that has so far claimed the lives of six teenagers from the Seattle area in gang-related shootings, parents, school district officials, police, outreach workers and churches have become increasingly frantic to find solutions. But while each of these groups offers ideas, none has yet been able to coordinate with the others to develop a sustained plan of attack.

    Blame, however, abounds.

    Parents and preachers point at the school district. Educators insist they are doing what they can. Everyone, it seems, complains about money."

    "The new anti-gang group Youth 180, funded by the city, has already enlisted about 10 teens to hit the streets and reach out to others. So far, it's working. But theirs is merely one small effort and lack of continuity typically plagues such campaigns - highlighted in one year's budget cycle, only to be excised in the next."

    Look to the Families and Education levy and you can see where this emphasis on the WASL cut away from these programs. The City wanted more of the money to go to something they could measure.

    "In 2004, however, money to fund Team for Youth was folded into the Families and Education levy with a new mandate. Caseworkers now would focus solely on improving graduation rates, WASL scores and other measurable outcomes."

    "The gang problems flare up, money comes pouring in. They go away, the money dries up," said Andre Franklin, who runs a midnight recreation program for teens at the Southwest Community Center in West Seattle. "This problem is never going to go away until there is something sustainable for working with youth in prevention and intervention."

    "Intervention works," said John Hayes, director of community relations for the Seattle Police Department. "Working directly with families works. That's what we learned more than anything in the early years. A lot of those old-school programs we need to bring back."

    Yet a year of good intentions - and a half-dozen dead teenagers - have so far resulted in little more than scattershot efforts to reach youth, along with mounting frustration from the communities most affected by their violence.

    "The presence of a youth gang problem must be recognized before anything meaningful can be done to address it," reads a directive from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, part of a gang-intervention model adopted by Seattle schools. "If denial is present, it must be confronted."

    Is it denial? Is it that gang activity dies down or lessens and money is so tight that these efforts go away?

    Here's part of what the letter writer to the PI said:

    "For those unfortunate youths in my own city who think they have no other alternative but to join gangs and continue to kill one another, suffice it to say when they value their own life, I will value their life. Until then, I don't care."

    What do we do? Pressure the district and the City to do more and sustain it? Hope it doesn't spread citywide to all high schools? Take a hard look at the problem and ask what part of it is society and what part of it is personal responsibility? As several readers here have noted, there are a myriad of programs to help reach these boys and get them through school with mentoring. What happens if they choose not to avail themselves? What happens if their home life is so unstable they feel more kinship with gang members? It's true; everyone wants a place to belong.

    But some part of growing up is saying, "What is my life going to be about? If I know the difference between good and bad and I choose bad because it's easier, is it now on me to admit that?" I've found - with my own kids - a resistance to think ahead to the future because it's too hard or it's takes planning or gasp! it's gonna take work to get somewhere in life.

    But I also think that there are a lot of good examples for these boys and they are choosing not to see them. The prime example, right in front of them, is Barrack Obama. He says himself he ran wild in high school and did drugs. He was not a solid citizen despite going to a good prep school. He pulled himself out of it. It can be done.

    But no more kids should die because of a gang affiliation. No more people should have to worry about just walking around their neighborhoods. And we all know what will come if this continues; there will a a bystander killed, either on the street or at a school.

    And to my final point:
    • " a mother frantic to keep him safe", "James' mother - who insisted that his full name not be published for fear of retaliation - made plans to enroll her son at another school this fall"
    Here is a mother that is fighting for her child's life. Not what programs are at the school or how many AP courses it has. She is fighting to keep him away from bad influences that could kill him and the only way she can do it for a large portion of the day is to get him out of that school.

    That, my friends, in a nutshell is why the SE Initiative is not going to work. That is why we need to keep choice in assignment plan at the high school level. It's not even about equity but survival. I know some of you are going to say, well, I can't save every child and what about my right to go to a school near my home?

    But for now, there has to be, by public entities, a multi-pronged approach to get this under control. We all have stand up and shout loudly to the powers that be, ENOUGH and get off your asses and do something - NOW.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    The Tree Issue; the PI Editorial Board Weighs In

    This editorial about the issue of Seattle School District and tree cutting on their property(ies) appeared in today's PI. It was very direct:

    "The School Board should map a path for reversing course quickly, perhaps beginning at a closed-door Tuesday meeting. Neighbors have legitimately fought the district's plans to cut dozens of trees for a needed Ingraham High School expansion. A district review recently upheld the tree removal. But with city rules apparently blocking any cutting while a master-use permit was pending, the district sent a letter to neighbors saying it would withdraw its city permit applications for the construction plans, cut the trees and soon resubmit the project. Too clever by half, and even more cynical."

    The closed door meeting is an Executive Session of the Board today (members only).

    The PI suggests:

    "We understand eagerness on the district's part to improve facilities, hold down costs and stay on schedule. If the tree removal is the best plan, however, the district has nothing to fear from a little patience with all the reviews that may be requested by people who support expansion but question the need for the tree removal and a full examination by the city government, which has, we might note, a record of being as generous as local voters in supporting education." (Italics mine.)

    The majority of the comments after the editorial were against the district. One said:

    "I will certainly remember its (the District's) activities when the next levy rolls around, and I will be reminding everyone I know as well. "

    The danger here is that the next levy which is the BTA (which is like the workhorse maintenance levy that gets the big stuff like roofs, for example, done). We are way behind on maintenance and I'm sure many of you know this from your own schools. (Overall maintenance is generally spent as 4% of a district's general budget. Problem is because of budget problems overall for years now that has been reduced to 2% so you can imagine how we have fallen behind.) If people perceive that the district is behaving badly AND the next levy is not a capital levy or operating levy, then there just might be some payback from voters who don't see the BTA as a particularly big deal for the district to lose.

    No one is telling the district they can't cut some trees. (But I would be interested in an independent contractor telling us why they HAVE go this route rather than build the addition in another direction.) But do they have to be so heavy-handed? Do they have to alienate the neighbors, the community and, for pete's sake, the Mayor (although people in the Maple Leaf neighborhood would tell you that the Mayor hasn't exactly been supportive of their issues with tree removal)?

    Still waiting for someone to rein in the Facilities department. It will be interesting, by the Board meeting next week, to see what will happen.

    Upcoming primary for State Superintendent

    Here's an interesting wrinkle in the State Superintendent primary: if any of the candidates get a majority of the votes in the primary, that's it, it's over. In that case there would not be another vote in the general election.

    There are six candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction, but most of the attention is focused on two: the incumbent Terry Bergeson and one of the challengers, Randy Dorn.

    I'm under no obligation to be unbiased here, so I'll be very clear: I don't believe that the incumbent has been leading state education in the right direction. Of all of the challengers, Randy Dorn strikes me as the one most likely to bring the right kind of change. Honestly I would love it if Mr. Dorn won a majority of the votes in the primary and sewed up the whole thing on August 19.

    What do you think?

    Sunday, August 10, 2008

    Do We Expect Too Little of our Students from Pre-K On?

    This article, "U.S.-British 'learning gap' a Real Education for Mom" appeared in today's Times. It is by Associated Press reporter (and mom) Nancy Zuckerbrod. Ms. Zuckerbrod was living in London and she and her husband had been looking at schools for their 5-year old Olivia. From the article:

    "The head teacher and I exchanged pleasantries, and then she laid it out. My daughter, who commonly invokes the Mandarin word for little brother and usually wins at the game of hangman, has a significant "learning gap" when compared with her British peers — especially in literacy."

    "An e-mail from the school followed. It politely spelled out exactly what the kids in that school were expected to master by Olivia's age: telling time; fractions — whole, half, quarter and thirds; counting in 5's up to 50; reading books (something called the pink new level) and starting to write "news" independently.

    I thought about Olivia's school experience over the past year. She planted basil seeds with her beloved pre-K teacher. She learned about insects, drew a fantastic picture of Saturn and definitely mastered the monkey bars.

    But she does not know how to tell time, isn't reading books on her own, and fractions — even American kids well into middle and high school are having massive trouble with those, according to a recent federal report.

    Olivia went to a public school in Washington, among the few cities to offer free public pre-K. But even her friends who went to the city's most selective private schools aren't reading, telling time or doing fractions."

    She goes on to explain:

    "Britain has a national curriculum with specific goals, and schools there are rigorously inspected and evaluated. Most kids enter school at 4 instead of 5, as is the case here, and prekindergarten programs tend to be more academic than in the United States, where standards vary widely from state to state and between public and private settings.

    It's not an open-and-shut case as to whether one country's approach is better than another. On a recent international reading test, U.S. fourth-graders and their peers from England had the same results. They weren't all that impressive. Students from the two countries posted lower average scores than students in Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Luxembourg, Hungary, Italy and Sweden, along with several Canadian provinces.

    In math, kids in the United Kingdom, which includes Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, outperformed their American peers on an international test given to 15-year-olds."

    Nothing new, students in the U.S. are not in the top ranks internationally.

    What made me pause on this story, because we are in an election year, is that we need to do better, as a city, as a state, as a country, for kids ages 1-5. We need universal preschool. We need to close the gap that exists as kindergarteners walk in the door on day one.

    Sure, there's always kids who are "ahead". My older son read at 3 1/2. Both my kids had Montessori pre-school and knew the continents and how to read a map at 4. (I consider my sons' Montessori teacher probably the finest teacher they ever had.)

    Could they tell time, do fractions (well, simple ones, probably), read AND write like British kids? No.

    In Sweden, they spend a lot of time on socialization and getting kids to think cooperatively and to learn at their own pace. Is that better?

    I think as a district or as a country, we can (and should) decide what are the basic learning blocks we want our kids to start out with. Many would say in a competitive world, the sooner they start reading and writing the better. Some would say we rob children of their childhoods.

    I vividly recall doing checks for my older son's kindergarten teacher. I took each student out to the hall. I was to give them a pile of disks and ask them to count them as high as they could. Most kids got to 20, a couple just to 5 and a few past 50. Then, I was to show them a box of 8 crayons and ask them the colors. One child only knew blue. At 5 years old, he knew one color (and he wasn't colorblind). And so on. It was painful to know, for kids at the bottom and kids at the top, how difficult the year might be.

    The kids at the bottom might lose their self-confidence and happiness in going to school if they couldn't catch up. The kids at the top get to be bored while the teacher plays catch-up. And what of the teacher? Does she or he teach to the middle? What if the class size isn't an ideal 15-18? What if there are 25 kids?

    It's one thing to have a few early bird learners and maybe a child who wasn't read to but it's another thing to have a classroom with equal amounts of both and then wonder what it does to the whole class.

    We need universal Pre-K. It is better to invest in our children on the front end then try later on.

    Friday, August 08, 2008

    Facilities Department Goes Unchecked (Further Updated)

    So here we go again.
    I had seen at the BEX webpage that the Ingraham neighbors against having a grove of trees cut down for a new addition lost their battle in a hearing. More than 65 trees out of grove of about 130 are to come down. That in itself is sad considering most of those trees are healthy. But the district says that's the best way to build the addition and that they are replanting trees (although not the same kind with the same canopy size - I'm no expert but apparently it matters in a city what the tree canopy is).

    Okay fair enough but then I heard on the 5:05 local news on KUOW yesterday that the district has dropped OUT of the city permitting process. Why? Because they own the land and can do what they want. So what they want to do is cut down as many trees as they want and THEN apply for a city permit to build.

    Apparently, this tactic was done before in SW Seattle, again amidst protest from the neighborhood. The district said then that it was a "mistake".

    This district continues to ignore neighborhoods and communities in what it does with its facilities. Charlie thinks the Board gives the Superintendent and staff a pass? Facilities is NEVER challenged on anything. Not even from the BEX Oversight Committee (really, go to a meeting - there's much rubberstamping going on).

    This does not build goodwill within a city that already has shown ( at least in attendance) misgivings about the public school system. (Can't wait for that State Auditor's report on Facilities.)

    Update: the PI published a story on this in their morning edition. From the article:

    "State and local elected officials also have condemned the project over worries about the environmental damage caused by the loss of the grove of trees. The district committed to planting three trees for each one that's cut down, but the replacements will be smaller and provide fewer ecological benefits for many years.

    On Friday, Mayor Greg Nickels issued a statement saying that he "is deeply disappointed in the decision by Seattle Public Schools to cut trees at Ingraham High School without further city review or public input.

    "The School District should stay within the regulatory process and act in good faith," Nickels wrote. "We expect good stewardship of our trees from all our residents and from the school district."

    (By the way, I think this action signals the end of the honeymoon phase between Nickels and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. I personally think he still favors an appointed Board and if he thinks the district is acting unwisely may go to others who support this action, like Senator Ed Murray, and start some quiet discussions.)

    And in the Comments section after this story? Calls for voting out the current Board. I don't agree but boy, this really isn't good for the district's or the Board's reputations.

    New Update (8/11):
    This update is courtesy of the great work over at the West Seattle blog. Here was the original blurb I heard about:

    "The citywide-media’s Denny/Sealth mentions (here and here) apparently came straight from a “Save the Trees” news release (read it here), without independent followup on exactly what was cut. Here’s what the news release said (in the middle of other text about the Ingraham project):

    Last week they did a similar destructive bullying tactic at Denny Sealth School in West Seattle. They bulldozed down the trees there that were part of a DNS appeal hearing while the hearing was still going on – ending any effective appeal. They apologized for their “mistake” but the trees were gone."

    "(Meanwhile) we asked Seattle Public Schools spokesperson Patti Spencer what she could tell us about any Denny/Sealth tree trouble, and here’s her answer:

    Here is my understanding of what the situation was/is: The contractor needed to put up a SILT fence to protect Longfellow Creek during construction. Putting up that fence necessitated trimming trees. I have been told that several branches were cut, and apparently there was one multi-trunk tree that needed to
    have parts of the trunk trimmed to make way for the fence. The area cleared is 3 to 4 feet wide. The mistake happened because the contractor proceeded without authorization, which meant that the work was done before the SEPA ruling was given. The hearing examiner termed this a “minor mistake.” Our facilities team has taken steps to ensure that type of action does not occur again.

    A multi-trunk tree that had to have parts of its trunk "trimmed"? I guess I'd have to see it but doesn't cutting into a trunk hurt it? I looked up "multi-trunked" and here's what I found at the Pacific NW International Society of Arborculture:

    "Multiple Trunks. Some trees develop
    multiple trunks. Trees with multiple trunks
    can, however, break if the trunks are weakly
    attached. Trunks with splits or cracks have a
    high failure potential. Inspect these trees for
    cracks or splits where the trunks meet."

    So if they cut into the trunks of a multi-trunk tree, didn't they just weaken it?

    What contractor who does work for public entities doesn't know about not cutting anything down without permission? And this won't occur again? I wouldn't bet on it; it's the easiest thing in the world to do what you want knowing you have the excuse of "Sorry, didn't mean to, won't happen again."

    Why is the SPS Website So Lame?

    Yet another post on a thread that deserves its own space.

    This was from the AP thread from NEMom:

    "Solvaygirl is right - there should be something provided by the district showing families what programs, services, assistance, etc is available at each school, and to whom it is available.

    Why do parents have to be detectives and go through every school's website or attend every open house just to find out bits and pieces of info?"

    NE Mom I have been saying this exact thing for years. Why indeed to we have to be detectives? Why are the Enrollment Guides not clear?

    Why do we have a district website if it is not the central clearinghouse for information rather than just a place for each department/school to post information?

    There is no FAQ page for the district; some departments have one, others don't. Bellevue School District has one.

    The information on any school's website can vary; some don't even put bell hours.

    Why not a page that has an organizational chart of the district (I know one exists but I don't know if it covers the entire district).

    And yes, why not a page that explains programs and where they exist (even if only in one school)? This is information that private school parents would be interested in and for current SPS parents looking to start a program at their school, could provide valuable information.

    (I know there are some departments that have a lot of information and try to keep it updated. But overall, the SPS website is not intuitive or easy to use.)

    Thursday, August 07, 2008

    Follow-Up on AP Thread

    On the post about the assignment plan, we diverged off on high school. One post was this that I wanted to follow up on:

    "And...a friend just told me that her daughter, a junior in the fall, has already taken all of the AP classes Franklin has to offer. With many colleges using AP classes as admittance markers, we can't afford to have any student who wants to attend college unable to take AP classes at their school.

    People keep talking about running start...but, it is not free, nor am I ready to have my 16-17-yr-old sitting in a class with college-age young men. And, I'd like her to get to experience the social aspects of high school: dances, student clubs, etc."

    My son did Running Start (in the evenings rather than during the day) and it was a great experience. However, it is a challenge to work it in and I'd bet it's harder for kids who try to make classes during the day. (High schools lose money when these students leave campus so I think there are mixed feelings there. Additionally, it adds in time to move from school to school with the problems of mixing in at high school. My experience is the many kids in Running Start are not really interested in high school activities anyway but I'm sure that isn't always true.)

    One other option is UW in the High School program which I hadn't heard of before. From the UW webpage:

    "Through the UW in the High School program, high school students can complete University of Washington courses - and earn UW credit - in their own classrooms with their own teachers. Students and teachers use the UW curriculum, activities, texts, tests and grading scales. Students earn a final grade over time; a grade does not depend on one exam. And students receive recognition for their UW work at most public institutions and many private ones.

    The program gives those students who are unsure about their readiness for higher education the chance to experience university-level work in a familiar environment. The program also can help strengthen upper-division high school offerings, and establishes a collaborative relationship between the UW and high schools.

    Courses currently available include writing in comparative literature, English composition; French, German, Spanish and Japanese; mathematics; astronomy; and earth science. UWHS will add history and information technology for the 2006-2007 school year."


    This sounds like a swell idea; problem is it's only offered thru Roosevelt and Ballard. However, other students can access the program through UW Online Learning.

    City Council Weighs in on Math Standards

    This from the City Council webpage:

    The Seattle City Council has expressed strong support for increasing high school math requirements, as all nine council members signed a letter to the State Board of Education in support of a new law that increases the math requirement for graduation. The issue currently before the Washington State Board of Education after the Washington State Legislature passed 2SHB 1906 directing the Board to increase math requirements for high school graduation from two to three credits.

    `“In order for our young people to succeed, they need to be academically ready for post-secondary education or job training programs,” said Councilmember Bruce Harrell. “They need three credits of math.”

    While only 38 percent of Washington’s school districts meet the three credit math standard for high school graduation, the minimum college admission standard for freshmen is three credits
    -- one credit each in Algebra, Geometry, and Intermediate Algebra II or three credits of Integrated Math through Integrated Math III.

    Currently, Seattle Public Schools requires two math credits to be eligible for high school graduation. However, this requirement ill-prepares freshmen for the rigorous curriculum that is critically important to prepare for success in college. By increasing the math requirements, the Board of Education would uphold the State’s commitment to ensure that all those who aspire to job training programs or post-secondary education, including community and technical college and apprenticeships, will be successful.

    “Education is the key to opportunity. In order to compete in today’s marketplace, Seattle’s students need to meet a higher math standard,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess.

    “We need to send a message to our high school students across the state: Your future depends on being prepared academically. Increasing the math requirement will help do that,” said Harrell."

    The Worst Audit Yet

    "Ad hoc, incoherent and directionless."

    "Highly fragmented, weakly defined, poorly monitored, and producing very unsatisfactory academic results."

    "The school district has not articulated a clear vision for what it wants to see in its English language learners and possesses no strategy or coherent program that would boost the academic chances of those students."

    These quotes are from the audit of the district's bilingual programs. Blunt is the word for it. Both the Times and the PI ran stories on it this morning. Here are some notable quotes from the usual suspects

    From the PI:

    "This review, the latest in a series commissioned by Seattle Public Schools in the past year, was the toughest yet – but necessary, Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson said Wednesday.

    "If you want to go from good to great, you have to look at the brutal facts," she said."

    From the Times:

    "At the School Board meeting Wednesday night, Sherry Carr called the report "sobering," and Michael DeBell said it was "disquieting." But all the board members expressed appreciation for the council's efforts.

    "Thank you for not sugarcoating this report," said Harium Martin-Morris."

    From the Times:

    "The Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of 66 of the nation's largest urban school systems, conducted the review with a team that included educators from several large districts that are making progress with English-language learners. The evaluators donated their time, and a grant from the Broad Foundation covered the rest of the costs. The team traveled to Seattle twice, interviewing more than 60 people and visiting about 100 classrooms."

    What to do now? From the report:

  • Create a series of 10 or so "dual-language" magnet programs throughout the city, similar to the one at Concord Elementary.
  • Streamline the enrollment and registration process for families of non-native English speakers
  • Guarantee those students a seat at a school within their cluster
  • Transform the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center into an "international high school," where students earn academic credit and graduate
  • Stop pulling students out of class for 45 minutes a day of English instruction, and help them learn English in regular classes in part by providing some instruction in students' native language.
  • • Strengthen the academics in the district's Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center — the first school that many older immigrants attend — so that students can learn English and earn the credits they need to graduate from high school. (Students now don't receive credit for the classes they take at the center.)
    • Establish a Bilingual Orientation Center specifically for students in grades 6-8.
    -Track the progress of students even after they've left the bilingual programs.

    Very, very sad to hear this about these programs being so pathetic. When I visited the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center, I was so impressed with the dedication and caring I saw from their principal and staff. But it was disheartening to see so much of what they do put last on the list. (Secondary BOC was supposed to get a modest $14M upgrade or use that money to upgrade a a different building but the money got taken over by Garfield's project. Don't ever let Facilities or anyone else tell you that BEX projects have no shortfalls or cost overruns. Supposedly, they are getting the money, sometime, from some other pot. Secondary BOC is up on Queen Anne, a long way away from where the majority of students live.)

    Wednesday, August 06, 2008

    More What Works

    This paper, Lessons Learned: New Teachers Talk about their Jobs, Challenges, and Long-Range Plans, is a survey of first-year teachers. (This is based on interviews with a nationally representative sample of 641 first-year teachers in March/April 2007.)

    From the NYC Parent blog:

    "76% of teachers overall said that reducing class size would be "a very effective" way of improving teacher quality, and 78% of teachers who work in high needs schools. 21% of teachers said reducing class size would be "effective", for a total of 97% -- far outstripping every other strategy mentioned, including :

    Increasing teacher salaries (57%), increasing professional development opportunities (54%), making it easier to terminate unmotivated or incompetent teachers (41%), requiring new teachers to spend time under the supervision of experienced teachers (35%) requiring graduate degrees in education (21%), requiring teachers to pass tough tests of their knowledge ot their subject (21%), tying salaries to principal or colleagues assessment (15%) tying rewards and sanctions to student performance (13%), eliminating tenure (12%), reducing regulations for teacher certification (8%), and relying more on alternative certificaiton (6%).

    (In each of the categories I have put in parentheses the percent who said this would be a "very effective" way to to improve teacher quality.)

    By the way, these views about the effectiveness of reducing class size to improve teacher effectiveness are shared by more experienced teachers and most principals as well.

    See this 2006 public agenda survey of teachers and school administrators, "Is Support for Standards and Testing Fading."

    "If the public schools finally got more money and smaller classes, they could do a better job." 88% of teachers agreed with this statement, and 85% of superintendents and principals, far outstripping any response.

    Compare how many teachers, superintendents and principals agreed with this statement: "More testing and higher standards will ensure kids will master the skills they need": 1% (teachers), 7% (supers); 10% (principals)."


    Wow; no matter how much technology or testing we do, the educators still believe class size is key.

    Any volunteers to find out exactly how SPS is spending our I-728 money and why it isn't all going to lower class size?

    What Works

    Ever wonder what IS working in education today (and how do you know)? I found this great paper called "Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide" put out by U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

    It starts out with this information:

    "This Guide seeks to provide educational practitioners with user-friendly tools to distinguish practices supported by rigorous evidence from those that are not."

    "If practitioners have the tools to identify evidence-based interventions, they may be able to spark major improvements in their schools and, collectively, in American education.
    As illustrative examples of the potential impact of evidence-based interventions on educational outcomes, the following have been found to be effective in randomized controlled trials – research’s “gold standard” for establishing what works:
    ■ One-on-one tutoring by qualified tutors for at-risk readers in grades 1-3 (the average tutored student reads more proficiently than approximately 75% of the untutored students in the control group).
    ■ Life-Skills Training for junior high students (low-cost, replicable program reduces smoking by 20% and serious levels of substance abuse by about 30% by the end of high school, compared to the control group).
    ■ Reducing class size in grades K-3 (the average student in small classes scores higher on the Stanford Achievement Test in reading/math than about 60% of students in regular-sized classes).
    ■ Instruction for early readers in phonemic awareness and phonics (the average student in these interventions reads more proficiently than approximately 70% of students in the control group)."

    It's a pretty good read with guides to what to look for in educational research. Here's the basic overview:

    "This Guide seeks to provide assistance to educational practitioners in evaluating whether an educational intervention is backed by rigorous evidence of effectiveness, and in implementing evidence-based interventions in their schools or classrooms. By intervention, we mean an educational practice, strategy, curriculum, or program. The Guide is organized in four parts:

    I. A description of the randomized controlled trial, and why it is a critical factor in establishing “strong”evidence of an intervention’s effectiveness;
    II. How to evaluate whether an intervention is backed by “strong” evidence of effectiveness;
    III. How to evaluate whether an intervention is backed by “possible” evidence of effectiveness; and
    IV. Important factors to consider when implementing an evidence-based intervention in your schools or classrooms."

    They give definitions and then examples of good research.

    Here's one piece of research that we've likely all heard of and wondered about:

    "Example.

    The Tennessee Class-Size Experiment – a large, multi-site randomized controlled trial involving 12,000 students – showed that a state program that significantly reduced class size for public school students in grades K-3 had positive effects on educational outcomes. For example, the average student in the small classes scored higher on the Stanford Achievement Test in reading and math than about 60 percent of the students in the regular-sized classes, and this effect diminished only slightly at the fifth grade follow-up.

    Based largely on these results, in 1996 the state of California launched a much larger, state-wide class-size reduction effort for students in grades K-3. But to implement this effort, California schools hired 25,000 new K-3 teachers, many with low qualifications. Thus the proportion of fully-credentialed K-3 teachers fell in most California schools, with the largest drop (16 percent) occurring in the schools serving the lowest-income students. By contrast, all the teachers in the Tennessee study were fully qualified. This difference in implementation may account for the fact that, according to preliminary comparison-group data, class-size reduction in California may not be having as large an impact as in Tennessee."

    Interesting reading and good to keep in your bookmarks in case you have questions about an educational intervention.

    Summertime and Homework Assignments

    There's a thread over at the Editorial page at the Times about summertime homework following from a story (linked at the blog) in the Washington Post. The dilemma is the belief that kids lose a lot of learning power during the summer so some schools have reading list assignments or even homework assignments. The flip side is "it's summer, let'em relax".

    I'd be somewhere in the middle. When my kids were younger, we always participated in the Seattle Library's summer reading program. They got charted for progress, got little prizes and a there was a party at the end. Pretty painless and it kept up their reading.

    I'm not big on assignments because it feels punitive. However, if your child had a poor grade in math or was struggling with reading, giving them the whole summer off is not going to help.

    It also brings up the point of whether year-round school makes sense. Is 6 weeks in the summer enough of a break? Would it keep the learning levels higher?

    Tuesday, August 05, 2008

    An Open Letter to the Board

    Members of the Seattle School Board,

    I have been watching this Board with growing concern. Last month, however, when the Board conspired to evade public discussion of the superintendent's evaluation, I became convinced that the Board has lost its way. It makes me heartsick to have to remind you that you are the elected representatives of the public and to call upon you to remember your better selves.

    You are the elected representatives of the public. Think about that for a bit. It was the public who elected you – not the District staff. The members of the community are your constituents, not the people who work in the JSCEE. After the students, you owe your loyalty to the public, not the superintendent. We're not seeing that. In your Affirmation of Responsibility, I see a lot of duties you owe the superintendent and each other, but the only duty you name for the public is to refer their concerns to the appropriate staff person. Don't you think you owe the public something more than that?

    You are the representatives of the public; you're supposed to represent the public's voice. When the public perspective and the staff perspective are in conflict – as they often are – presuming it makes no difference for the students, you should be advocating for the public perspective. We're not seeing that. There's no one else here who has the duty of representing the public's perspective – that's your job. And if you don't do it, then no one does.

    You were sent here by the public. There's no one else in the District who is accountable to the public. The people in the schools are accountable to their principals and then up to the education directors, the central staff are accountable to their supervisors and then up to the "C" level executives who are accountable to the Superintendent who is accountable to you. Everyone else in the district can (and does) ignore the public because they don't have to answer to them. You alone are accountable to the public. You need to start acting like it.

    So when there is universal agreement that the community engagement on a project was inadequate – as it was on the Denny/Sealth co-location –– but you approve the project anyway, then you are saying that community engagement doesn't matter. If the project goes forward with or without community engagement, then community engagement doesn't matter. And when every single stakeholder group opposes a project – as was the case with the Denny/Sealth co-location – but you approve the project anyway, then you are saying that stakeholder views don't matter. And if the Board, the elected representatives of the public and the only people in the District who are accountable to the public disregard the public's perspective, then why in the world should the superintendent or the staff care about it?

    If you are simply going to approve every staff recommendation, then what function do you fulfill? You have not written policy, you have not enforced policy, you have not rejected any staff recommendation - what difference does it make if you are here or not? If you are not going to provide the necessary push-back then there is no point to having a Board. We should just skip the formality of having a Board and allow the staff to make the final decisions because you have ceased to function.

    Finally, last month, you showed yourself so contemptuous of the community that elected you that you conspired to shut the public out of any discussion of the superintendent's evaluation. In violation of District Policy, in violation of your bylaws, in violation of your affirmation of responsibility, you made the calculated and conscious choice to circumvent any public discussion of the superintendent's evaluation. It is clear that your loyalty to the superintendent and the staff is greater than your loyalty to your duty or to the public. It makes me heartsick.

    How can I call upon you to remember your better selves? How can I call upon you to show the courage of the convictions you avowed during your campaigns? What sign can you show that you have remembered your duties and your loyalties? I honestly don't know. It may be too late. Of greater concern to me is the possibility that you have already shown us your best selves – that this is as good as it gets, and that your actual loyalties are to those in JSCEE rather than to those in homes across the city. You are the elected representatives of the public. When are you going to start acting like it?

    - Charlie Mas

    Sunday, August 03, 2008

    An Outside Firm to Craft the Assignment Plan?

    I received an e-mail from a parent who asked me if the district might be hiring an outside firm to create the new assignment plan. My first instinct was to say no. The Board hasn't in the (recent) past.

    But this is a Board and Superintendent who used a lot of outside help in their audits that were done this year. Could they be thinking along those lines for the assignment plan?

    The parent sent me a URL for a company that works on assignment plans. It's called the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice. I only browsed the site but saw some interesting reading there. They created plans for NYC, Boston and Portland, Oregon. Of particular interest is their publications page.

    What I told this parent is that it might be a good idea but with some major caveats. One, where would the money come from to hire them? The Board just gave the Superintendent a raise and passed a budget that they can't sustain. There is no extra money. Well, maybe the Alliance would pay or some other entity.

    Two, my experience is that when the district hires somebody, the staff tells the company want they want. In this case, a plan has to be crafted that works for parents and the district. There cannot be a show of "community engagement" when the company and our district's staff already know the outcome and are guiding that community engagement towards it. If a company were hired, it would have to be working towards genuine consensus.

    Maybe I can ask the Portland PTA Council what they thought of what Portland ended up with and how well this company worked for their district.