Thursday, January 08, 2009

PI Article Puts Focus On What May Come Next (for High Schools)

I hadn't had a chance to read the Final Recommendations until today. There is an interesting part about high schools which today's PI article chose to focus on (page 10 in the Final Recs). To wit: there is still excess capacity at the high school level but the district is going to delay any decision on the closure of a comprehensive high school. From the Rec document:

However, the excess capacity must be addressed, and any closure options should be aligned and addressed by the development of the new Student Assignment Plan.

Interesting, because (1) couldn't this be the rationale for developing the new Student Assignment plan BEFORE a closure plan? and (2) eliminating a high school would have taken far more seats out of the capacity issue than any elementary or middle school and yet they didn't do it. I would almost think the discussion of high school closures was a red herring (indeed, especially The Center School as the document only references "comprehensive" high schools).

They state 3 areas of concern for high school closure:
  • concentration of high poverty students/high numbers of students with achievement gaps in potentially impacted schools (interesting this is a problem in high school but when it was suggested during the last round of closures for High Point/Fairmount Park it was okay)
  • Specific plans to support student safety (what does this mean? I know there are already safety plans in place but I'm thinking they are talking about Cleveland and RBHS in specific).
  • Thoughtful discussion about comprehensive large schools versus comprehensive small schools versus alternative schools (interesting again because what is Center School? It's not a comprehensive small school but is it an alternative?)
From Jessica Blanchard's PI article:

"In mid-December, Goodloe-Johnson released a document in which she called for closing a high school in 2010 and hinted that district officials would consider changes far more complex than simply closing a school: "Choice has only worked for some students; is it time to consider a mandatory high school assignment that offers the same choice of rigor and programs?"

Mandatory high school assignments? That would be big because it contradicts what has been initially put forth by the assignment plan meetings i.e. enroll at any school with space with sibling/distance tiebreakers and lottery seats.

Her final recommendations have backed away from the 2010 date, but the latest report notes that "any closure options should be aligned with and addressed by the development of the new Student Assignment Plan."

District officials hope to have that plan ready by the start of the 2010-11 school year.

Yet another thing to keep on your radar as you go to assignment plan meetings.

97 comments:

Trish Millines Dziko said...

I totally agree that the "choice" system does not work for all students. I would say it doesn't work for most.

Now we have a system that is literally divided between the haves and have nots--and it's geographically based at that. Of course the district allowed this to happen over the years.

I'm not sure how you fix it without sacrificing some students, but I think it should be like most districts in our state:

1. you have clusters of elementary and middle schools that feed into one high school.
2. The school system buses you within your cluster using money provided by the state. In other words, don't do like we do now and spend $14M on busing kids around all over the city.
3. If you want to go to another school outside your cluster and there's room, then get yourself there.

Closures are not going to help this out, nor will closures make academic achievement better. Better talent management and a real culture of achievement will however make a huge difference.

Moving the APP program to the south end will not make it more diverse unless you change the process of how students get into APP.

another mom said...

Melissa, did you read the portion in the appendix that discussed high school closures? If a comprehensive high school is closed, estimated functional capacity will be at a very low level. Perhaps too low.

Charlie Mas said...

Trish, I think that if you're going to make such strong and sweeping statements about the choice system, saying, for example, that it is divided between haves and have nots, then you should support those statements with some facts and data. Moreover, if you think that geographically based assignment is going to remedy the problem, then you should explain how it will make the critical difference.

Surely if the haves and have nots are geographically based, as you assert, then a geographically based assignment plan - which we very nearly have - would reaffirm those haves and have nots, wouldn't it?

I agree that choice introduces uncertainty and I agree that it creates winners and losers. I disagree with your assertion that it doesn't work for most. Nearly all of the data I see from the District says that between 80-90% of students get their first or second choice for assignment. How is that not working for most?

Like you, I think that the solution to our troubles lies not in tinkering with the assignment plan but in fostering a culture that values academic achievement.

Choice, which we have never really tried in Seattle, was supposed to include an accountability feature in which the District would close, re-invent, and re-open schools that did not attract students. In the absence of that accountability - and in the absence of any District-level intervention in failing schools for the past three administrations - schools were allowed, by the District, to spiral down in failure. It wasn't choice that failed us but the District leadership under Mr. Olchefske and Mr. Manhas. They abdicated their duty in the name of site-based decision making.

adhoc said...

Trish I am not an advocate of the "choice" system for SPS. I prefer neighborhood schools or limited choice throughout ones cluster.

However to say that "choice" doesn't work for most families is not a fair statement.

The way I see it there are a handful of schools that are over crowded, that are hard to get into if you do not live in their immediate neighborhood. About 14 of them to be exact. So few that I can list them all......Stevens, McGilvra, Montlake, JSIS, Whittier, North Beach, Laurelhurst, View Ridge, Wedgewood, Bryant, Eckstein Garfield, Roosevelt and Ballard.

I didn't count alternative schools even though two or three of them do run at capacity with a waitlist, because everyone has an even shot at them, so "choice" and "the system" are not working against anyone in the case of alts.

The only other exception is Lowell, where a student can only enter the program if they test into it.

So that means that 78 out of the 93 Seattle Schools are accessible to everyone. Anyone. I'm sure there are a few exceptions that I may have over looked, but this should be a pretty fair over view.

It is true that you may have to drive if you choose a school outside of your area, and that will hinder some from accessing those schools. But there are also many out of cluster options that do provide transportation, including alt schools, APP/Spectrum, south cluster to QA/Magnolia, SEcluster to Hamilton, and many more. And of course at HS driving doesn't really doesn't matter anyway because students are using public transit.

So I don't really know why some say "choice" doesn't work? Choice may not work reliably for 15 schools in the District, but it works incredibly well for the other 78.

Again, I'm not advocating for choice. Quite the opposite. I like neighborhood schools and the community that they foster. I would like my son to stand at the bus stop with 6 other kids all going to the same school. I would like to see the kids in my sons 8th grade class all become the incoming 9th grade freshman class next year in HS. Choice is not my personal preference, however to say that it doesn't work on a pragmatic level for the District just doesn't gel.

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Here is what I'm saying:

"Family A" lives in the south end. Their school assignment choices aren't that great, but so their "choice" is to put their kids on a bus for an hour or so to get into a better school -- that is IF there is room.

Sometimes "Family A" may not know their school is a disfunctional one until they are enrolled. Or "Family A" may not have the knowhow to work the system enough to get their kids in a better place. Not everyone has gobs of time to look over schools, visit them, read blogs, etc.

If we took all the extra money we spend busing kids all over the place and put it into their local school and developed the adult talent in the building so they could better serve the kids, then "Family A" doesn't have to go to a crappy school.

Yes Charlie, data is important, but look behind the data. Why does "Family A" make the school choices they do? Do you really believe that someone would choose to send their kids to a school that is severely underserving them? Did it ever occur to you that some people have limited choices (for a variety of reasons)?

I think sometimes we get so hung up on data and making sure everything pencils out that we forget there are human beings involved and children's lives in the mix.

On a personal note, as a Central Area family, my choices are limited to T.T. Minor, Leschi, and Madrona. We chose T.T. Minor six years ago, but I can honestly say we wouldn't choose it today. Nor would we choose Leschi or Madrona. So tell me what my "choice" is today. I'm either going to put my kids on a bus for an hour or more to a north end school (if we can get in), or I'm going to pick the best of the three schools, or I'm going private. My oldest daughter will be in middle school next year where the "choices" are even more limited!

Again, I think it's important to read behind the data! It's not a popular opinion, but I'm not trying to be popular. I'm calling it as I'm seeing and living it.

Charlie Mas said...

When families in Magnolia were complaining about the lack of predictability in assignment to high schools, I had a solution for them - choose Cleveland. I could safely predict that they would get that assignment. The problem, of course, is that they didn't want a predictable outcome, they wanted a predictably good outcome. They didn't want predictability; they wanted quality.

Trish, it seems to me that the problem you complain of is not so much the lack of choice, but the lack of good choices. It's not a choice problem but a quality problem.

To take your case for example: your elementary choices were T T Minor, Leschi, and Madrona. Would you really have been better off if you didn't have the choice? Would you have been better served if your child were assigned to Madrona without a choice of other schools?

I don't think so, but you - and some others - might.

I know that there are people who contend that some low performing schools would be better if informed and involved families could not escape them. I have two responses: 1) I don't know what evidence they have to support this contention. That certainly hasn't been shown to be reliably true in Seattle, yet we are supposed to rely upon it. 2) Families, particularly informed, involved and affluent families always have choice. In part because they can choose a private option. I can't afford private school for my children, but I'm confident that I could game the system to get them re-assigned to another school if I wanted - based on an oversized sense of political efficacy and confidence in my own craftiness. I could get my kids re-assigned even if I had to finagle their expulsion from their assigned school.

Finally, if it is the presence of involved families that create school quality, then wouldn't re-distributing those families only improve the quality at one school by reducing the quality at another? Isn't it a zero-net-sum game? And if school quality is primarily dependent on the community, then what is the point of the District's efforts or the school's efforts to improve quality - are they all for naught? Why let the district and the school off the hook from their responsibility?

Let's consider your case further. If you live in the Central area, then you won't have a choice of middle school because Meany is closing, leaving only Washington. That is exactly the situation that you are promoting, yet you appear clearly dissatisfied with it. How can that be? Clearly, lack of choice and geographically-based assignment isn't really the solution that you want. Why don't you think that your solution will work for you and your family at the middle school level next year? What is missing? Isn't exactly the situation that you advocate? Washington will have a mix of students and families, including APP, Spectrum, ELL, and disabled. It's the whole Central area from Montlake to the I-90 lid.

The problem, of course, is that the math curriculum is not only unhelpful but actually damaging. The problem, of course, is that there are no decent electives outside of the instrumental music programs. The problem, of course, is a building stuffed with over 1,000 students eating lunch in three shifts. The problem, of course, is a school culture that has a slight prison flavor. None of these problems is a result of choice.

I have heard a lot of people complain about Choice, but I have yet to find anyone who has a choice problem. They always have a quality problem. If all of the schools were quality schools, then no one would be complaining about their choices or the Choice system.

Taking away Choice will not create quality.

adhoc said...

"I'm either going to put my kids on a bus for an hour or more to a north end school (if we can get in), or I'm going to pick the best of the three schools, or I'm going private."

OK Trish, I understand that "choice" doesn't work for you on a personal level. It doesn't work for me on a personal level either. One of my children goes to a Shoreline school and we live in Seattle! We just have to be clear that these are our personal choices and opinions, and that actually, "choice" does work on a pragmatic, functional level in the District.

I understand your personal choice not to send your children to the three schools you listed. And I understand your personal choice not to bus your kids up north. But you have to acknowledge that this is simply your personal choice, and that you do have other options.

You can choose another school in the Central Cluster (even the popular Stevens, McGilvra and Montlake have openings in the upper grades). You can choose practically any school in the South Cluster? Also in the SE? And what about alternative schools? What about The New School? What about Lowell or a Spectrum school? What about schools in QA or West Seattle or?????? That's a lot to choose from.

Again, and just to be clear, I do not advocate for "choice". I advocate for neighborhood schools. I agree with you that the money we spend on transportation should go into classrooms instead of gas tanks.

I think our choices should be limited. I think we should have to stay in our neighborhood schools. I don't like the idea of bailing out to a "better" school, or being able to choose an alternative school not because we buy into the alternative nature of the school but because it's the best of all evils. If we have to stay in our neighborhood schools we will work to improve our neighborhood schools - and yes, I know this isn't a popular opinion.

The ability to bail on your neighborhood school and choose a "better" school, makes good schools great, and bad schools worse. The "bad" schools wind up with the most at risk kids, and without a community to advocate for them.

Although we have to acknowledge that "choice" does work on a pragmatic level, it would have worked so much better with the proper accountability and over sight as Charlie mentioned above. If the District acknowledged that unpopular schools were not meeting the needs of their neighborhood (for whatever reasons), then the District should have intervened up to and including closing the school and reinventing it. But that never happened in SPS. Bad schools, got worse - good schools got better, while SPS turned the other cheek. For a decade. Now we have a mess to clean up.

I'm glad to see someone finally willing to start sweeping.

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Charlie said "Trish, it seems to me that the problem you complain of is not so much the lack of choice, but the lack of good choices. It's not a choice problem but a quality problem."

Exactly, and it still shakes out the same--no real choice at all for many.

And as long as the District is willing to bus kids all over the city for "choice" and not use those dollars to really work on quality--like relevant professional development, building a quality teaching pool, etc--then "choice" becomes the primary problem.

And the Washington Middle School situation is a joke. It's a major disaster waiting to happen.

Charlie you and I will have to agree to disagree on this topic. I'm living it right now with my four children and I talk to people every day about their "choices" and they aren't good. As long as people keep the "choice" system alive, then we'll stay in the same situation we're in now--haves vs have nots.

momster said...

hi trish - from someone not in the central area and who doesn't know the schools, why are tt, leschi and madrona not acceptable choices? (note - i have seen and heard you speak enough to know that you are not going on a knee-jerk reaction based on the demographics of the school).

is it the teachers, the principals, the other children, the families of the other children? not enough dollars to deal with the social issues that come with the demographics (mainly poverty)?

i'm sure you don't want to libel anyone, but i'm hoping you'll answer anyway - because the "perceived quality" phenomenon is absolutely at the base of most of the empty seats that drove school closures - and whether or not perceived quality = actual quality, it's as real a driver.

thanks

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Adhoc said "You can choose another school in the Central Cluster (even the popular Stevens, McGilvra and Montlake have openings in the upper grades). You can choose practically any school in the South Cluster? Also in the SE? And what about alternative schools? What about The New School? What about Lowell or a Spectrum school? What about schools in QA or West Seattle or?????? That's a lot to choose from."

You are absolutely right, I could choose those schools, but the chances of getting in to many of those schools is slim to none. Plus
I have four children and while they are in elementary school I want them all in the same school and not spending an hour or more on a bus.

You know, I just want my kids to go to school with the kids in their neighborhood and I want that school to be really good. I want my kids to be able to come home and do homework with their classmates, etc.

Rudy D said...
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Jessica said...

I have always doubted the SPS data showing that the vast majority of families get their first choice of school. Just because they put it down as #1 doesn't mean it's their real first choice. It may well just mean that it's their first choice of the schools that they stand a remote chance of getting into. My geographic situation is similar to Trish's - Leschi is our reference school and Madrona is equidistant from our house. Let's say Stevens is our first choice when my son starts K this falls. We'd never actually put it as my first choice though, because we know that we stand NO chance of getting in and we don't want to throw away the #1 spot. Say McGilvra is our second choice. We’re not going to put that school down as our first choice either because we also stand no chance of getting in there. Say we then put Montlake down in the #1 spot – it’s not really our first choice, is it? But SPS would say that we got our first choice, if we did even get into Montlake (long shot).

seattle citizen said...

Intuitively, I have to agree that the choice system is bad for students. If schools in neighborhoods aren't good, then those that are assigned to them, one would hope, would be active and pressure the district to ensure the schools are up to snuff.

Choice allows, as Trish says, those that are savvy to the system, those that can perhaps drive their students an hour away, those that push hard for the students to BUS an hour away because they want their student in a school they know to be better (because they're savvy to the system)...Parents/guardians new to the district, or uninvolved, or facing cultural issues that might tell them that they should stay in a community and not venture out (immigrants, for instance, might stay with their own, and some students don't feel safe stepping out of their neighborhood due to gang issues).

Ad hoc points out that 17 schools don't have choice issues, but these schools are all (?) north, these schools are all full, and meanwhile a fair amount of students are left to languish in students that have NOT seen pressure on the district to improve them. As Trish points out, there ARE ways to improve schools, and they should be applied in neighborhoods so people don't feel they have to travel north or go to a private school in order to secure a good education for their children, and for those parents/guardians who don't know how to work the system, they are not left with crappy schools.

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Momster,

I opened that door and I guess now I have to walk through it huh? :-).

There was a time when we loved T.T. Minor. It was a high poverty school with over 85% kids of color when we started. It was very effective because there was a culture of respect and achievement. My oldest daughter is in 5th grade and most of her kindergarten classmates are still there with her. They had the benefit of a cohesive school culture and a higher level of rigor. Since being on the initial closure list in 2005 and MLK/T.T. Minor merger in 2006 the quality of the school has steadily declined. Many good teachers left because they got tired of wondering if they'd have a job the next year, the district seemed to do everything to kill the good programs there, and it just became a mess. Our family committed to staying through this year because we've been there for so long and we have put so much of our hearts and souls into the school. Now the school has about 200 students and of course it's on the closure list again. That changes the entire climate in the school.

I think Leschi and Madrona are doing a little better than T.T. Minor at the moment. I'm friends with the principal at Madrona and I think she's doing a great job with that school. But, it seems everytime the district wants to close schools or change funding the central area schools get hit first. As a family we just can't do struggling schools anymore.

I would really like to see the district invest in top level teaching and administration at these schools. The kids are not at fault here. Having a high poverty school with mostly children of color is absolutely no excuse for poor performance in the classroom. The ED Trust group has proven that with their research across the nation. Our district needs to move the ineffective grown ups out of the way so the kids have a chance to learn.

Rudy D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle citizen said...

well said, Trish.
I can't believe TT Minor ha dto adjust to MLK moving in two years ago and now is closing. What a huge impact that must be having on the climate there...

Yes, ALL students can succeed to a level appropriate to their interest and abilities. Yes, it's the adults who make this happen. You are right; District, principals, educators must be strong and organized, accountable and driven to facilitate success.

And there must be community support. Some parents/guardians aren't, or can't be, engaged. If other parents fly away, then the community suffers. That is why I was somewhat surprised to read you second post: in your first, you indicated support for clusters; in your second you indicate you would not choose any school in your cluster. To me, and I'm taking a wild stab here, this illustrates the problem: many, many parents/guardians are all about social justice, about equity, about fairness and supporting the public good, but when it comes to their children...No disrespect intended AT ALL; it is the natural way, but some of my closest friends have been very active socially and culturally, but when their first kid arrives, their focus narrows substantially; they want what's best for their chld and will not wait for things to get better or put their child in a place where the child might suffer a less than stellar experience, even though by sticking with it the net effect on the public good is positive.

THIS is why the District and the principals must be strong, to show the communities that they are on it, that they won't countenance craptitude, that even if li'l Johnny, Ahmed, Jesus or Than has to put up with some slightly negative aspects for a year or so, THINGS ARE CHANGING FOR THE BETTER.

This is why all these closures, the last round and this, are disheartening. Where's the grand plan for success? Where's the reassurance that the adults will make things better? I would have preferred a plan that was premised on positive change instead of reactionary closure. A plan that said, "we're doing this, and this, to accomplish THIS grand thing. But instead we have a changing list of rationales why schools are closing and very little explanation about how it will make things better (except the mere pittance in savings; how much money per student? Are students now just deficits on the balance sheets?

Charlie Mas said...

I don't dispute the lack of quality. That's the problem. The problem has nothing to do with Choice. Please stop making Choice the villian. Eliminating Choice will not suddenly bring quality.

There will still be haves and have nots. With Choice or with a neighborhood assignment plan, Montlake would be about the same. With Choice or neighborhood assignment, Roosevelt would be about the same. There is very little money spent on transportation for these schools.

Strong, high quality popular schools are, essentially, the neighborhood schools you want. Families that don't have access to those schools now will not have access to those schools if the Choice system were eliminated.

Frankly, with Choice or with a neighborhood assignment plan, the kids at Dunlap would be about the same, too. And so would Roxhill and West Seattle and Highland Park.

How - exactly - will eliminating choice improve these schools? By re-directing a few thousand dollars more into them? To spend how? How much transportation money do you think the District could re-direct into schools to improve quality at the low performing schools? How are they using the hundreds of thousands of dollars of compensatory education money that they are pumping into each of these schools now?

How, exactly, would the elimination of Choice make Washington a better school?

Why is Washington a disaster waiting to happen when it is exactly the situation that you prescribe? Families in the Central Region will only have transportation provided to Washington - within their region. If families want to go to another school outside their region and there's room, they will have to get themselves there. Isn't this exactly your prescription? Yet it is unsatisfactory to you. I don't understand why you aren't delighted by it - unless the problem isn't a result of Choice.

The problem, as I'm saying, has nothing to do with Choice.

Believe me, I understand that folks living in one neighborhood may envy the school assignments available to folks living in another neighborhood. I understand how folks may despair of their school choices. But eliminating Choice will not eliminate the disparities in school quality or the range of academic opportunity at various schools. Your energy and activism - which are valuable resources - should be re-directed towards more effective means of improving school quality. Not focused on eliminating Choice.

Rudy D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle citizen said...

Charlie,
The city is becoming increasingly homogenous in terms of wealth, but is not there yet. There are pockets of wealth everywhere, yet some areas are very wealthy (comparitively) and some poor.

What I see the choice system doing is drawing those who are savvy, or who can affort the energy or expense of transportion, away from the poor areas and leaving the rest.
Queen Anne, Wallingford, Crown Hill, Laurelhurst, North West Seattle and to some extent the Central/Madison corridor...these neighborhood schools are successful partly because they have parents/guardians who are educated, savvy, and diligent in making sure their schools are "successful". So those schools have a larger population of students who are from the neighborhoods. Savvy parents from other areas try to get their students into these schools, using the choice system. Un-savvy parents, or parents working two jobs, parents too stressed out by other factors to be effective in lobbying and acting, keep their students home in the neighborhood.

IF all parents stayed in their neighborhoods, we would have, if we aren't careful, a repeat of the bad old days, segregation by wealth and race. We might still have that to some degree, but this is why we need powerful and effective adults making sure that ALL schools are effective. By allowing parents/students to choose to wander around the city serves no useful purpose, other than supporting a system where there is a variety of programs, which could, in theory, meet a variety of learning styles. But that is a) expensive, and b) replicatable in clusters IF there is demand and commitment. If people stayed where they were, and if the adults demanded a variety of learning opportunities, then clusters could be diverse, and would be forced to offer all sorts of stuff that is currently unavailable in mnay schools, particularly in the South end.

Charlie Mas said...

Ah... I knew that I would see this myth trotted out.

"If schools in neighborhoods aren't good, then those that are assigned to them, one would hope, would be active and pressure the district to ensure the schools are up to snuff."

Please provide a list of schools in Seattle that were turned around as a result of community pressure to improve. While you are researching that, please consider the history of Rainier Beach High School - where families picketed the school for three years but hte District refused to replace the ineffective principal. Please consider the recent history of Madrona K-8 where a significant number of local families have not able to influence the culture or direction of the school despite years of effort.

Think of it. Imagine the scenario. A cadre of middle-class families come into a struggling school with the intention of "improving" it. What do you think? That they will be welcomed as saviors? These families, new to the school and from a different culture and social class than the current population at the school, show up and try to tell the adminstration, the teachers, the staff, and the community that they are doing things wrong but now everything will be put right. Like that will be well received! Hah!

Or, worse yet, they try to pressure the school or "hold them accountable". Do you think that will get better results?

It's a fantasy. It's not reality-based.


Jessica, you should name your first choice school as your first choice for assignment. There is no reason not to. It doesn't work against you at all if you don't get it. I have no idea where you got the idea that it does. You may have little chance of getting in, but if you don't name it then you have no chance of getting in. Naming Stevens as your first choice does not, in any way, reduce your opportunity of getting into Montlake as your third choice. There is nothing special or precious about your first choice selection. If your child is ahead of another child on the tiebreakers, it won't matter if the school is their first choice and your fifth choice; your child will get the assignment. Choice ranking is not one of the tie-breakers.

Who lead you to your mistaken understanding of how the Choice system works? I'd really like to know. They did you no favors.

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Seattle Citizen said: "To me, and I'm taking a wild stab here, this illustrates the problem: many, many parents/guardians are all about social justice, about equity, about fairness and supporting the public good, but when it comes to their children...No disrespect intended AT ALL; it is the natural way, but some of my closest friends have been very active socially and culturally, but when their first kid arrives, their focus narrows substantially;"

I'm assuming you're not saying that me and my family are bailing out right? We have been in this system for six years heavliy involved in our kids school and I personally have been advocating for public schools for over 12 years. So there is no bailing here. There is frustration and yes, I'm not going to send my kid to yet another struggling school. We are tired of struggling. We will however stay in public schools.

Charlie Mas said...

There's the myth again:

" If people stayed where they were, and if the adults demanded a variety of learning opportunities, then clusters could be diverse, and would be forced to offer all sorts of stuff that is currently unavailable in mnay schools, particularly in the South end."

So the idea is that high school students who want AP classes should enroll at a school that doesn't offer them because - and here's the part I don't understand - the student's very presence in the building will somehow cause the class to appear?

Middle school students who want advanced math classes should enroll at schools that don't offer advanced math classes because - somehow, magically - the classes will appear to meet the demand.

When and where has this happened?

Families that go to school tours at Mercer and ask about advanced math classes are told "If you want advanced math classes, enroll at Washington."

How has the demand for better electives created better electives at Washington? I haven't seen them.

How has the demand for real math education created real math education?

Is there no demand for Advanced Learning Opportunities south of downtown? Because the only ALO programs are at Thurgood Marshall and Dearborn Park. Is there no demand for Spectrum in West Seattle South, because there's no Spectrum program there?

The problem is that the District is not responsive to the community it ostensibly serves, so changing the community will not change the schools.

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Rudy D. said: "Whatever school your children attend next year will be extremely fortunate to have your family. From what I have heard from parents of gifted children that has to be private school most of the time.

Thanks Rudy. We have children in all ranges of interest and ability and T.T. Minor has been able to accomodate them. We have one special ed student, one very gifted (scored 98 on the test), one smart kid who will only does as much as you tell her and nothing more (read not self motivated), and one we think is gifted but isn't old enough to be tested yet.

So you see finding a single elementary school that has worked has truly been a gift to our family. That's why we're so disappointed. And then there's middle school.

We are staying public. We're moving to Vashon Island as soon as we can sell our home. Smaller community, one elementary, one middle, and one high school. Our kids can actually play with the kids they go to school with. And to tell you the truth I'm really wanting them to have the experience of working land and making stuff like I did growing up.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, I might use Bagley as one exception where parents either advocated and/or knew a Montessori program was in the works, got onboard and worked like crazy to improve the school. (Director Carr could probably give specifics.) Their school is much better and much stronger because of them. Sad to say it was my neighborhood school and with my first child I looked and saw a forlorn school. I walked away. I wished I had looked again for the second one. Maybe that is another lesson. Principals come and go, programs change, and don't give up on your neighborhood school.

My feeling is (I'm probably with Trish on this one) you have to do what is best for your child(ren). I have had many people talk to me about schools and feel sheepish or apologetic for putting their child(ren) in private schools. No apology needed. Parents/guardians know what is going to work for their child. A year is a LONG time in the life of a child and to suppose that you can change a school in only a year or two (at least in this district) is fantasy. That said, if more people feel the district will listen to what they want in their neighborhood schools, maybe more people will be willing to try. It goes both ways.

seattle citizen said...

Trish,
I probably wasn't clear, and I'm NOT saying you're bailing out. I know that you have been doing ENORMOUS amounts of work to serve children and meet their educational needs, and not jsut their own. (And I thnak you for that!)
What I was trying to say was that parents (obviously) have a tendancy to place the needs of their children first, and this can make the system suffer, if adults a) allow it and b) encourage it by not making sure ALL schools are rich, rigourous, warm and supported places.

You indicated that "my choices are limited to T.T. Minor, Leschi, and Madrona. We chose T.T. Minor six years ago, but I can honestly say we wouldn't choose it today. Nor would we choose Leschi or Madrona."

This tells me that you would consider "choice" by selecting some other option, sending your kids to a non-cluster school. You, who are the penultimate advocate and activist, might choose a non-cluster option. If the three schools mentioned were all transparently movng towards strong programs, and you knew that even though your child might have a year of less than superb eduation it would be okay because there was massive evidence of improvement, would you stay?

seattle citizen said...

I agree, Charlie, that the District has to be creating these programs, and this is the problem. EVERY school should offer advanced math. Why don't they?

Community demand shouldn't be the driving factor; some parents'guardians might not even know what advanced math IS. It's up to the District to build great programs everywhere. With choice, the district can build a few and the students, those that can, will go there.

momster said...

The "I'm not putting my first choice first because I have no chance of getting it" myth not only hurts the family who acted upon it, but the whole system - because the district thus is deprived of data about what people's REAL choices and preferences are.

which is supposed to be one of the benefits of a true choice system - that people will indicate preferred schools with their choices and their children's butts - and give the district information to close or radically improve non-preferred programs and replicate preferred ones.

in addition, another reason to put your real first choice first is that first choices greater than seats available at a particular school has sometimes led to increased capacity at said school, particularly in K.

(i have seen it happen at my children's elementary school - which is also an example of a once-failing school improved by grass-roots support from neighbors and families - and the assignment of a veteran principal - which i have offered on this blog before but which charlie i think rejects - maybe because it was sort of serendipitous and not mapped out ahead of time.)

this myth is wide, wide-spread, and unfortunate. i have a lot of otherwise intelligent friends who don't believe tracy libros and the district when they say how the system works, and worse, don't believe me (whom they know!) when i tell them how the system works (i.e., if you don't get your first choice, your second choice is applied as if it had been your first, and so on - no consequence)

maybe jessica from the pi can write a story about that - and about perceived vs actual quality - and about other implications (intended and otherwise) of the seattle's choice system.

seattle citizen said...

Melissa,
Parents probably WON'T wait for programs. Furthermore, it shouldn't have to be parent demand that gets the good stuff - schools should be doing it as a matter of course. That's the job of educators at all levels.
Trish is moving to Vashon (yea! it's bee-OOO-tiful out there, and land is good to work...) and they, like most places that aren't big cities, have just one school each of elementary, middle, high...not much choice there, eh? Yet many, if not most, seem to organize themselves in such a way as to provide a quality education for their children.

Vashon children who want "choice" have to take a ferryboat to some other school!

Bainbridge Island, to Vashon's north, has one high school, two middles, three elementaries (at least count). SOME (a few) BI students come over here and go to, say, Garfield because it might have something they want. SOME go to privates, just because and because they can afford it. There are, I think, two alt schools, one sort of remedial, the other alt-ish.

Bainbridge used to be pretty diverse, and still has some of that. It had working class loggers, farmers, Filipinos, Japanese, Native Americans....and it had middle and upper class commuters, who ferried to the city. This ratio has changed as land values rose, but it still serves a diverse demographic with just one high school. Go figure. And I don't believe they offer choices about elementaries...it's too far to drive from one end of the island to the other (both middle schools are within a mile of each other)

seattle citizen said...

Charlie, could you list for us some of the benefits you see coming from the Choice system?

Jessica said...

Hi Charlie,

I do understand fairly well how the system works, but I suppose I meant that we wouldn't throw away our wait list choice one of the schools that we know we won't get into. And if we know we won't get into them I don't feel any compulsion to list them.

Anyway, I'm not sure the Stevens-McGilvra-Montlake holy trinity really would be our first choice any more. We really do want a school that is in our immediate neighborhood and are willing to give Leschi or Madrona a try. We are feeling reasonably positive about things for those schools. We know families that are very happy at Madrona, and Leschi would probably be fine too, particularly if the TT Minor Montessori moves there (sorry TT Minor!).

seattle citizen said...

Or anybody who wants to list benefits. I only "picked" on Charlie because he seems to be a staunch defender of it.

momster said...

trish, thanks for your response to my question about tt, leschi and madrona.

you said "But, it seems everytime the district wants to close schools or change funding the central area schools get hit first."

in the 2006 closures, there were no central area closures other than martin luther king - and that was a voluntary merge arranged by the principals of tt minor and martin luther kind (and yes, it could be argued that the community wasn't behind it, and that the principals were anticipating something the district was on its way to doing - but the point was that there were only about 100 children in that school - a number of them from out of the district. it was clearly not being chosen by families.)

in the 2005 closures (which were recommended but not made), tt minor and ml king were included but there were schools all over the city (including north-end schools) not just the central area.

the excess seats issue in the central area has actually been allowed to continue longer than in other areas of the city.

and yes, being on a closure list sometimes makes families leery of choosing it - but there are a number of examples where it has spurred solidarity and strengthened enrollment - alki, north beach, montlake, bagley...

maybe those are in neighborhoods where people have more confidence in their own power to effect change? and they don't take the district's say-so as the last word? i don't know.

on the subject of leadership in those schools, it's puzzling to me that you can speak warmly of the principal of madrona, but not feel it's a choice for your family (notwithstanding your desire to keep your children in tt minor for stability's sake - i just bring it up because you said you wouldn't choose leschi or madrona).

to jessica re wait list - you can make a choice for which wait list you want to be on that is different from your first choice.

momster said...

Re wait list - the checkbox on the enrollment form is:

Yes, I would prefer to have my child on the waiting list for a school
OTHER THAN my first choice. My preferred waiting list school from
the list above is: _____________ school name

Jessica said...

I do know that you can specify a school other than your first choice as your waitlist choice, but we are not likely going to list any schools that we are not going get into.

adhoc said...

Rudy D,

Not only is Eckstein our neighborhood school it is one of our two reference schools. It is 2 miles from our home. Our son could walk to/from Eckstein every day. Most of his elementary school friends go to Eckstein. And it is by far the closest SPS MS to our home. But my son did not get in.

If we had limited choice, and a guaranteed neighborhood school assingment plan he would have gotten into Eckstein, or whatever "neighborhood school" the District assigned to us.

Was my "choice" restricted? Yes, by my own doing. Not by the District or the "choice system" itself. I fact I had MANY options within SPS. My son could have went to Hamilton, Whitman, Summit, AS1, or an array of south end middle schools that the district would even provided us transportation to! I could have chosen Denny or Mercer or Meany. I could have chosen McClure or Blaine or Broadview Thompson. I could have had him tested for Spectrum or APP, or I could have just left him at Salmon Bay where he was already enrolled. I had A LOT of choices.

It just so happens that I believe in neighborhood schools. And it also just so happens that we also live 2 miles away from Kellogg MS in Shoreline. It is out of District, but it IS our neighborhood school. They had plenty of space for my child, it met all of our requirements and we enrolled him there.

But to say "choice" doesn't work is false. It does work. I just didn't like my choices, and that is my right, your right, Trish's right. Everyones right.

And BTW Rudy, the District can not make your child attend Aki or any other school in NCLB step 4 or 5. The District is mandated by the federal Govt to offer you an alternate school. If they do assign your child there, you can request a new assignment, and they have to accomodate you.

adhoc said...

Trish, I don't know what is motivating your move to Vashon, but if it is just public school, check out Shoreline. They too have one MS, and one HS for each half of their District. The 8th grade class at Kellogg MS, it he incoming 9th grade Freshman class at Shorecrest HS.

Not to mention the schools are fabulous and public!

It works for us.

adhoc said...

Well, I honestly think with the coming of the new assignment plan, and a move toward neighborhood schools we will begin to see some standardization.

Like all Elementary schools offer band, recess, art. All MS's offer advanced math, 3 years of science, band. All HS offer a baseline of AP courses, and same graduation requirements.

That's a HUGE first step, and one that has been sorely needed for many many years.

If we go back to neighborhood schools these "baseline" courses and offerings would have to be in place. And, then I think the community will at least have hope and maybe give their neighborhood schools a try.

It is true that communities have been unsuccessful at going in and changing the culture of a school. And that is sad. A school should be a reflection of it's community. I have to wonder what role leadership can play? What if the Madrona Principal was reprimanded for her racial comments and unwillingness to work with her community? What if the District communicated clearly that they would not tolerate it? What if the District actually held her accountable to serve the entire community? There might have been a very different outcome.

Dorothy said...

I think it is more nuanced than Charlie says. I also wonder about the true rate of getting first choice, both because folks don't always choose according to their "true" choice and other reasons. I'd like more data analysis there, perhaps some quality surveys.

Yes, a lot of the issue is quality, but that's not all. As we have seen from discussions of Alternative schools and the discussion of high schools, a school can be decent quality, but not the appropriate philosophy for a child.

That's the rub for many, that the alternative schools with their different philosophies are often out of reach, with waiting lists of 150 and more. Comprehensive high schools ought not have such divergent philosophies and offerings (and graduation requirements) as long as some get huge waiting lists.

These are places where choice seems something tantalizingly out of reach.

SPSMom said...

"You know, I just want my kids to go to school with the kids in their neighborhood and I want that school to be really good. I want my kids to be able to come home and do homework with their classmates, etc."

Me too!

Rudy D said...
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noggen said...

adhoc, I posted this on another thread too but I'm pretty sure the NCLB mandate stands for Title 1 funded schools, perhaps you mentioned that point and I missed it.

adhoc said...

Rudy you are certainly entitled to your opinion. But your opinion "the entire city is your community" is a very unpopular one. The vast majority of Seattle families have voiced loud and clearly over and over again that we want high quality neighborhood schools. We want to have our kids needs met in our community.

What if their were two schools exactly like the school your child attends? What if one was a few blocks from your home, and the other was on the other side of the city? Which would you choose? If you choose the one closest to your home, then you might appreciate neighborhood schools too, if they were strong schools that could meet your child's needs.

adhoc said...

And, of course I have no problem with people choosing schools far away from their homes as long as the school has space for your child and you provide transportation on your own. I just don't believe taxpayers should have to pay to transport children back and forth and all across the District, except in the cases of unique programs like alts, APP etc.

seattle citizen said...

Rudy D,
We can meet various academic needs in neighborhoods, just like Vashon and Bainbridge do. While it's true that a city with many students SHOULD be able to offer a huge variety of programs and/or schools, it is expensive and it has led to some "haves" and "have nots".
There seems to be a recurring idea that since the District isn't providing good stuff everywhere, then we need choice.
I feel that the conversation should be about what the District should be doing right, rather than what we should be doing if the District isn't doing it right. Proactive instead of reactive.

Ruby D, I'd also add that it might not be the district's job to "give the people what they want" so much as to give the people quality education. It might not be possible, efficient, or necessarily in the interest of students to provide every little thing a parent wants. Not to say that there shouldn't be a wide range of coursework (at varying levels) available, but that it should be the District's own quality research and planning that drives design.
Additionally, parent surveys might not be much help as surveys are notoriously imprecise. When they are all turned in, you have in hand the responses of those who take surveys. What about parents who don't? What about parents who are absent, busy, homeless, non-English speakers, afraid, wrongly convinced of what's best for their child by others who tell them what's right...
Perhaps the Board, as our duly elected monitors of the system should be ensuring quality offerings everywhere, instead.

(word verifier! Is "spect" what we get before we get REspect?!)

Rudy D said...
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Rudy D said...
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Trish Millines Dziko said...

Momster said: "on the subject of leadership in those schools, it's puzzling to me that you can speak warmly of the principal of madrona, but not feel it's a choice for your family...

One of the challenges for us is going through the transformation process again. I think Kaaren Andrews at Madrona is doing a fabulous job, but that school is in transition and we're just tired of transition as a family.

On another note, you're right, the central district schools were spared closure, but the threat of closure really hurt enrollment.

And things like a letter home to the T.T. Minor families this past summer that the school didn't make AYP was the nail in the coffin. The District did not send the letter out with the Principal's letter explaining that it was only one grade that didn't make it and in one subject.

That's the kind of stuff we're getting tired of.

Rudy D said...
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seattle citizen said...

This whole conversation speaks to Charlie's pet project, ACCOUNTABILITY. Yes, parents/guardians can and should advocate, yes they can throw out ideas, yes some of them might add to research and practice...But what I keep reading here is that District needs to do the right thing, and who holds them to that?
It's my opinion that every child should be able to go to school closeby, like those on Vashon, and get a quality education. Why would a student NEED to go somewhere else? Isn't it the job of the District to make sure that every school is offering varying levels of education? Varying electives? Rigor?
But who, oh who, holds the District to this? Evidently not NCLB (for all its faults), where we see that the fearsome "restructuring" is often just a mere shuffling. Is the board holding the district accountable? Is the media? Parents/guardians can, but often their efforts are tinged with understandable advocay for their child alone, rather than the big picture.
So where's the structural, legal framework for accountability? Is Board policy law? Is state law law? Should we sue?

momster said...

thanks, trish, for sharing your personal experience so candidly. it's helpful for understanding where you're coming from.

i can absolutely see the district doing a tone-deaf (bone-head?) thing like sending the ayp letter without the principal's letter.

it's hard to tell whether those kinds of things are from too much to do down there and too much going on, or from people who just don't get it - but i guess it almost doesn't matter.

seattle citizen said...

Rudy D,
I'd prefer to look at it as Vashon students all get great neighborhood schools, perforce. There neighborhood schools HAVE to be good, because there ain't no others.
I would NOT want us to be like Vashon and get the same "all-city" busing they do, because then you're back into the choice model: don't like the nieghborhood? Go to another.
I want ALL neighborhood schools to be excellent, varied, rich and rigourous

Rudy D said...
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Ben said...

"I just don't believe taxpayers should have to pay to transport children back and forth and all across the District, except in the cases of unique programs like alts, APP etc."

And let's remember that the district MAKES MONEY on APP transportation!

The arrangement could change in the future, I guess.

Rudy D said...
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seattle citizen said...

Ruby D,
I'm all for parent/guardian participation, but I would prefer to see the system that is in place actually utilized:
State grants permission for a taxing-body to exist, the SPS. There are mandates attached: Board decides policy, holds administration accountable for enactment of policy.
Board is accountable to voters.

Ideally: Administration is busy running daily operations AND planning new models, models that are both unique and cutting-edge while still meeting the mandates of Board policy. Board AT LEAST holds administration to policy; these policies are LAW, they are the structure of the district, and they are what allow the district to legally take half a billion of our dollars per year.
Beyond that, one would hope that there is constant innovation, and if not, why not? Numerous policies and vision statements put forth innovated ideas; who is watching to see they are enacted?
I would vote for the establishment of an ombudsmen office, whose sole purpose was to monitor district actions and report back to board. Board has few resources to monitor the goings-on at Administration; it would help to have a "fair reporter" (if I can borrow a job title from Heinlein) who can help the Board undertand what's happening.

Rudy D said...
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Rudy D said...
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adhoc said...

So Rudy, your proposal is that every school in the entire Seattle School District should be open to every student in the entire District with assignment by lottery with all city transportation provided! A heyday!

Meanwhile, you think it elitist of me to want access to my neighborhood school, the school that is down the road from my house - that my child can walk to? Wow, what to say to that? Pause....while I scratch my head???

What if I didn't live in NE Seattle Rudy? What if I lived in SE Seattle? What if my neighborhood school was Rainier Beach HS and I wanted my child to go to Rainier Beach HS? Would I still be elitist? Or, am I only elitist because I happen to live in NE Seattle?

Then you pick apart my advocacy for standardization and having all schools offer a baseline or course offerings. But how about instead of picking apart my suggestions, you tell me what you would do instead? How would you begin to make all of the Schools in our District strong schools? That is, of course if you think all schools SHOULD be strong schools.

Leaving choice in place without standardization as you suggest would not be working toward all schools being good schools. It is exactly what we have now? Do you think this system is working as is? I don't. I think it would continue to be, well, more of the same. More of the same old raggedy, lousy, struggling, under enrolled, unpopular schools will continue to be, well, raggedy, lousy, under enrolled, unpopular schools? Is that what you want?

Then you say in regard to the options in the SE "Ah that leaves Aki Kurose where there is room now, because it's so bad and unsafe that parents won't sign their kids up there". I think you summed it up best with this statement. This is a direct result of a lack of standardization and accountability coupled with choice. Should we leave choice alone, and not standardize, and leave Aki to continue to spiral downward? Because that is exactly what you suggest.

But then again, I guess it wouldn't matter to you, because, after all the entire District is your community. you would, I guess, leave Aki to flounder, while you flee to a better school far away. That's choice at it's best isn't it Rudy?

And Rudy, honey, don't worry about picking on me. I'm good.

seattle citizen said...

Roby D,
Vashon DOES have pockets of poverty and homelessness, and they are forced, by the nature of their size, to address these needs in the schools they have.

(That's another argument for a different day: you mention SBOC...now, that's a program for second-language learners, which might be necessary due to the nature of their needs, but there are other instances of students being sent away (down the dark hallway to THAT room, is the way I put it) if they aren't "normal." Is it a good thing to have separate schools and/or programs for those who are "different"? Soemtimes this might be ncessary, but I'd posit that sometimes these separate programs are merely places to put the unwanted "down the dark hall")

I agree that sometimes Seattle acts like a monopoly, like they aren't accountable to us, the people how pay the bills and have the children...This has to changes

Denise Gonzalez-Walker said...

Regarding Vashon -- that district, like Shoreline, pulls many kids from South and SW Seattle who ferry across to the island each day. The district runs buses from the ferry and even provides a "Commuter Students and Parents" mailing list to families.

I know a West Seattle family whose daughter attends middle school on Vashon. They found it to be a high-quality, affordable alternative to private schools, after rejecting their SPS options.

seattle citizen said...

I've heard about this. Would that we could reverse this polarity.

Denise said...

To clarify -- Vashon pulls from South and Southwest Seattle. Shoreline draws students from the northend of our district.

adhoc said...

I've heard Shoreline is thinking about running yellow buses into North Seattle as they have so many SPS students now.

TechyMom said...

I'm really not comfortable with the argument that, because some people can't or don't exercise their choice, that no one should have a choice. Different families have different values and priorities. Different kids have different learning styles. Expecting a single educational model to fit everyone just isn't realistic.

I care about science, world languages and art. I want my child to feel comfortable questioning authority. Particularly on that last one, I know lots of families don't want their children taught that. I don't want to send my child to a school that discourages it. We will never be happy in the same school.

I don't particularly care about my child being at the same school with the neighbors. I don't mind it, and I'm sure walking to school would be nice, but it's not very important to me. Others think this is very valuable.

If one family wants a lazer focus on math and reading, and another wants equal weight on math, reading, science, french, art, music and gym, how can they be happy in the same school?

Why do we have to have quality OR choice? Why not both? We know from first choice and enrollment numbers what people want. Use that info to improve the schools that they don't want.

TOPS and ORCA will probably be my first and second choices. Stevens is my favorite "regular" school, largely because of a strong tuition-based after-school program. Does it make sense to expect every school to have this? Is there a market for it in every neighborhood? If there isn't, does that mean that no school can have it?

If TT Minor has Montessori and Stevens has Spanish, and they're the same distance from my house (which they are), why shouldn't I be able to choose the one that I think would be a better fit for my child?

Is Giddens better than Epiphany? Is Bush better than Valley School? No. They're different, but they're all high quality. Families will choose the ones that fit them. Why should that option only be available to families who can afford $10-20K per year in tuition?

And, Ad Hoc, I don't think the "vast majority" of Seattle families have not voiced a desire for neighborhood schools. That might be true in your neighborhood, but I've never heard it in mine. I don't think the district has any idea what most families want, except by looking at first choice numbers.

adhoc said...

Techy mom, as far as I understand it the District isn't proposing quality or choice. Aren't they proposiing guaranteed access to your neighborhood school if you want it, and if you don't you can choose another school in your cluster with transportation. Regional alt schools. App/Spectrum. All with transportation. And any school other than these choices are available options too, provided they have space and you provide your own transportation.

Isn't this proposal a meeting in the middle of sorts. It's certainly not a straight neighborhood school policy like Shoreline. But it's not the free range, heyday, open choice that Rudy D wants either.

It seems balanced to me. Especially if the District begins to look at some standardization.

Charlie Mas said...

The bugaboo continues to be school quality. The $64 million question continues to be: How can we be assured that every school is a quality school?

All parties - school, community, and District - certainly have a role in the creation of school quality, and they all need to fulfill their role for optimal results.

But the District has two additional roles to play. I believe that we can be assured that every school will be a quality school only when the District fulfills its role as the arbiter and enforcer of school quality.

There has to be an arbiter and enforcer, those roles are implicit in the words "quality" and "assured" because someone has to judge quality and someone has to backstop that assurance.

I think the District can certainly consider the community's input as part of their assessment of quality, but the District has the duty and the authority to set those benchmarks - and there will be multiple benchmarks - and measure the school against them.

It is only the District that can act as enforcer. The Community cannot fulfill that role because the community lacks the authority to dictate change.

So now the first question - how can the District assess quality? There are a number of measures the District can use including multiple measures of academic achievement - both criterion- and norm-referenced - also assessments of culture such as student climate surveys and staff climate surveys. In a Choice system, first choice is clearly a measure of popular confidence. Even without Choice the District should be very sensitive to schools' reputations within the community. More than this, the District can assess to determine if students working below grade level get early and effective intervention, if students working beyond grade level get acceleration and the greater challenge they need, if students with disabilities are on pace with their learning plans, if the students are kept safe, if the student families are engaged and informed, if the teachers and staff are happy and productive, and whatever other criteria are deemed appropriate.

And how can the District assure quality? The District needs to collect the data on the measures of quality and - if any of them are found wanting - provide early and effective intervention. On a systematic basis, this is likely to include such features as baseline offerings - at a minimum - in every school. So every school offers music, art, and P.E., every middle school offers a choice of world languages, every high school offers - at a minimum - a defined set of AP classes.

Schools are going to be different. They are human endeavors and therefore intrinsically unique. Every teacher - even if they are teaching the same curriculum - teaches differently. Every student is different. And every school is going to be different with its own focus and culture. No amount of standardization can prevent that - nor should it try. Every school can be different AND every school can be good.

Then... why bother to continue to offer Choice? What benefit does Choice provide?

Every school is different and every student is different. That's almost too obvious and fundamental to say out loud. So some students are better matches with one school than another. Should the decision to match a student with a school be done by the student's family based on a knowledge of the student's temperment, interests, and learning style and a knowledge of the school's culture, focus, and offerings - OR - should students be matched to a school by the District based on a knowledge of zip codes?

The problem, I see, comes when the student's family does not have the requisite knowledge to make an informed choice. They may not know how to access that knowledge or they may not make the opportunity to access that knowledge or they may not care to access that knowledge. Either way, that's where they will have to rely upon the District's energetic work as the arbiter and enforcer of school quality at every school.

In short, Choice only fails to work well when the District fails in its duties to assure school quality AND the student's family does not or cannot fill the gap. In that case, the fault lies not with the Choice system, but with the District.

adhoc said...

And, just to add to my above comment. I don't think the District's aim is to make every school a cookie cutter model of the other. I think standardization means that whatever school you go to you are assured of the basics....like AP or IB courses in HS, 3 years of science in MS, advanced math at all MS's, band, art, etc.

That's not to say that Eckstein has to give up the award winning jazz band because the band program is not as strong at Hamilton. It's not to say that Stevens shouldn't have a strong after school program because Leschi doesn't. But it does mean that no matter where you go to school, no matter the flavor or culture of the school, basic service, that is a baseline of offerings will be available.

zb said...

"Trish, I think that if you're going to make such strong and sweeping statements about the choice system, saying, for example, that it is divided between haves and have nots, then you should support those statements with some facts and data"

I'm not Trish, but I tried to do an analysis a while ago, looking at the Central school district. What I found was that students always moved from reference areas that had high poverty (high proportion free lunch) to schools that had lower poverty. (I did the analysis by looking at which schools were chosen by out-of reference area students in each reference area). Effectively, this means that people use choice to move up the economic scale, segregating those at a lower economic scale in schools with high poverty. Then, some proportion of the remaining non-poverty students (the ones who could not avail themselves of the choice to, say, move to TOPS) in those reference areas choose private. So choice produces more economic segregation. It's possible, of course, that all of the students who were able to avail themselves of Seattle's choice system to move to a lower poverty school would have chosen private, changing this math insignificantly, but I don't think so.

"Surely if the haves and have nots are geographically based, as you assert, then a geographically based assignment plan - which we very nearly have - would reaffirm those haves and have nots, wouldn't it?"

Without a economic or racial tiebreaker, choice serves to reinforce residential segregation, exacerbating the effects. Reference areas would reaffirm it, but choice, the way it's operating since Seattle dropped the racial tiebreaker exacerbates it.

zb said...

My other "calculation" based on talking to others in my milleu (who have lots of choices, including private school, moving to a new neighborhood, and using Seattle's choice system, providing their own transportation if necesary) is that many in Seattle are actually looking for diversity, meaning 20-30% free lunch. They'd prefer that their children not go to a school that is 90% white and 97% non-poor. Given that preference, I think it's possible to draw reference areas in many areas of town so that we reach that balance. But, with our current reference areas & choice in operation, we have schools that range from 97% free lunch to 3% free lunch (in elementary school). That's what a mandatory assignment system would seek to mitigate.

We don't have to get rid of choice to foster neighborhood schools, but we need mandatory guaranteed assignments, and redrawn reference areas that guarantee every student a known school based on geography.

Rudy D said...
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Charlie Mas said...

zb wrote:
"What I found was that students always moved from reference areas that had high poverty (high proportion free lunch) to schools that had lower poverty."

Of the students who attend T T Minor, 20 live in the reference area for Thurgood Marshall.

Of the students who attend Thurgood Marshall, 21 live in the reference area for T T Minor.

Tell me, zb, which group of students is moving from a reference area of higher poverty to a reference area of lower poverty? Is it the ones leaving T T Minor for Thurgood Marshall or the ones leaving Thurgood Marshall for T T Minor?

Rudy D said...
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TechyMom said...

Ad Hoc,
That sounds like a middle of the road. It also sounds a whole lot like what we have now. How is that guarenteed reference area going to be any different than a distance tie-breaker? The same addresses will get in. The same addresses will be too far from any school. You might know before enrollment whether you will get in, or whether you only have a slight chance of getting in. But, don't we know that now? Would it make you feel better to know that your block gets assigned to Hamilton and not Eckstein in January instead of April? What difference does it make? The reference areas are going to have to change all the time anyway, as population changes. I wouldn't be surprised if they change as often as the distance boundaries do now.

How are you going to ensure that everyone in the Stevens area can go there, that I can choose it from 1.3 miles away, and that there are no gaps between areas? I don't think it's possible. I think the thing that is likely to get squished to make it possible is the ability to choose a school other than your reference school (I don't say neighborhood, because there isn't a school in my neighborhood, it was closed 2 years ago). That means that kids will be grouped more by zip code than by interest or learning style, and that there will be less opportunity for different focuses at schools.

I'd also add that I think school choice has helped our neighborhoods diversify. People are more willing to buy houses in transitional neighborhoods if they think (rightly or wrongly) that they can keep sending their kids to school in their old neighborhood. I'm not aware of any research on this, but I wouldn't be surprised to see greater gentrification in cities with open school choice.

The current administration doesn't seem too keen on any sort of "special" program, from APP to Summit. The sup seems to want everything the same. I wouldn't be surprised at all if, by the time my daughter is in middle school, zip code = school, no other options.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Just an aside for this year as this is the last year for the current assignment plan - one person said something to the effect of not putting certain schools on their enrollment form, believing they couldn't get in.

Put down as many as you want because 1)you never know and 2) if you don't get your first or second choice and you haven't put down a third or fourth choice, the district will pick for you. Your enrollment will go into some netherworld pile while the computer sorts out everyone else who DID put down a third and fourth choice. You get whatever is left.

You may not get your upper choices but make ALL the choices yours and not the district's.

Ben said...

"And with all the smartypants APP-ers headed north now, how will your chance at Eckstein improve? "

I know we're all just blowing off steam, but can you quit with the smartypants APP stuff?

Rudy D said...
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Rudy D said...
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Keepin'On said...

Techy Mom-

I think you hit the nail on the head with assignment by zip code. I now wonder if that is what the district is moving towards? Or am I just missing something.

I was curious about what Ballard families are being told about the proposed new asssignment area boundary line for Ballard High School. The new line is rumored to be in the school's parking lot on 67th street. Anyone north of 67th will not get in, so they can expand the school's "Neighborhood" to another zip code (Magnolia's and Queen Anne's)

The dividing line for zip codes in Ballard is 65th st.

adhoc said...

"How is that guaranteed reference area going to be any different than a distance tie-breaker?"

It offers predictability. You will be guaranteed a spot at the school in which boundary you live. It won't be based on distance any longer. It won't be based on how many people apply any given year. It won't depend on how many siblings get guaranteed assignment. There will be no more waiting or wondering for months whether you got in or not. No more need to apply to 5 private schools.....just in case. As a back up.

Now, it's true that your reference school may not be the school closest to your home. My reference school may not be Eckstein, it may be Hamilton. Even though Eckstein is 2 miles from my home and Hamilton is 5 or 6 miles from my home. I'm OK with that.

If my reference school is Hamilton, I will know that all the other kids in my neighborhood and in my reference area will go to Hamilton. That will in essence make it my neighborhood school even though it is not in my neighborhood. Though I would prefer the school closest to my home, I understand that demographics don't always allow this.

We live 2 miles from Eckstein. That is the point at which some families get in and some don't. We're right on the edge. Most of my sons friends got into Eckstein. He didn't. That stinks. I would really like to see some type of predictability.

And for those that don't like their neighborhood school, then they don't have to go there. They can still utilize choice, although it may be limited choice.

adhoc said...

Rudy, how about instead of shooting everyones ideas down, and name calling, you actually add something constructive to the conversation.

AutismMom said...

I absolutely applaud Dr. GJ and Trish for pointing out the obvious. Yes, choice HAS indeed left our schools with huge pockets of poverty, disability, and racially segregated. And that is the primary driver in school quality difference. In my opinion, they have taken a very courageous stand.

Choice has meant schools can choose NOT to serve YOU. In the case of disability, it's still ok to say "no we don't want you at our school". Principals can decide not to serve you, and not to provide services. Many of you may think that's just fine, but I'm also sure there are many other groups that schools don't want to serve too. Homeless? Did you ever hear a principal tout their ability to attract homeless students?

People say they want "diversity". The data shows exactly the opposite. And you can go look at it yourself. Schools that are the richest, and whitest, are overwhelmingly the most selected. First choice is directly correlated with the lack of diversity. It's easy to say you want "diversity", but evidently, much harder to actually write down a first choice proving it.

Rudy D said...

Snarky comments removed and password changed so crazy mad wife doesn't get me hated everywhere. She's not really that bad just a little defensive about her kids and home all day with nothing else to do. I didn't know this blog thing stays on with your name unless you log it out. Sorry if anyone was offended. Usually we are more careful with the computer around the kids but now we might have to just unplug it.

momster said...

rudy d - thanks for the bit of comic relief (the dr jekyll and mr hyde versions of you), and your good humor about your wife's passion.

too funny - though i'm thinking you must have some lively arguments at your house...

TechyMom said...

There may be a third variable that causes white affluent schools to be more popular.

I like using myself as an example, so I'm going to do it again...

I want diversity. But, on my list of criteria, it's # 4 or 5. I want science and french more than I want diversity. That doesn't mean that I don't want diversity. If I could find a school with science, french AND diversity, I'd be there in a second. So far I haven't found one. Any suggestions?

TechyMom said...

I should add that I'm talking about elementary school. My local high school is Garfield, which seems to have everything I'm looking for. Lets hope that's still true in 10 years...

seattle citizen said...

Techymom,
Your post about diversity raised a thought (I skimmed through some of the last few of these posts, getting behind, so if I'm rehashing old territory let me know)

You indicate an interest in diversity, and Garfield IS diverse, by the LOOK of the place...I guess the thought I have is that while a school might have a wide range of socio-economic, racial, religious, cultural etc diversity represented, it might still be segregated (if not stratified).

Me? I'd look for not only diversity but a culture that advocates and strengthens diversity, that mixes things up.

adhoc said...

Seattle Citizen is right on with this one. As I mentioned if you walk around Hamilton you will notice that kids segregate themselves. The kids that bus up from the SE hang out with the kids that bus up from the SE. The kids that move up from the JSIS hang out with the kids that move up from the JSIS. And so it goes.

By contrast, Hale is also quite diverse. But Hale students do not segregate themselves. The school works hard to create a culture of acceptance, and inclusion. They work hard to bridge cultural, ethnic and socio economic groups. And they weave this work and culture into everything they do. And it works.

I am not as familiar with Washington. I don't know what kind of culture the school has? Does anybody else know?

AutismMom said...

Ok Techymom. I guess your number 1 priority will be "diversity" after all. But, I am guessing you won't be selecting a diverse school.

French? Get real. There's no French in elementary school. And the schools that do offer other languages only do so at the absolute most cursory level. The international schools have real language study... but the others are more like Spanish or Chinese appreciation. So cross that one off your list.

Science? Have you seen the "science packets" required to be taught by SPS elementary schools? Guess what? I'll clue you in... it's so weak as to not really be science and it's district-wide. So cross that one off your list too.

Art? Well, lucky for you most schools do have that. So you don't need to look for it as a special "priority". Just don't write down Madrona as your choice because they don't believe in "extras". So, cross that one off your list too.

Now, we're down to "diversity". I guess you're free to select the most diverse school in your cluster....


... if that's what you really value.

anonymous said...

"I want diversity. But, on my list of criteria, it's # 4 or 5."

Techymom, speaking as a family with children with learning disabilities who are barred, because of their disability, from schools that it sounds like you would like to have your kids attend --let's keep those seats for the normal kids, ya know-- I am saddened by your ignorance of, or, worse, indifference to, the bigger picture of equity in our public school system. If SPS discriminated against girls with blue eyes the systematic way that they discriminate against children with disabilities, you and others would be up in arms I have no doubt. The double standard --who counts, who doesn't-- persists because it works for people like you.

TechyMom said...

I was actually talking about racial and economic diversity, not disability.

I completely agree that the way disabled students in SPS are treated is both morally wrong and ineffective. I don't think that having "extras" prevents students with disabilities from going to or succeeding in a school. Quite the opposite. I think it allows every student to find the subject in which he or she can shine. I think children with disabilities should also have access to languages and science and arts and recess, as should children without. I think twice exceptional children should be at Lowell or any other program they want to attend. I work in an industry that includes significant numbers of people with ADD and autism spectrum disorders, often undiagnosed, most of whom are brilliant and among the highest producers. I'll vote with you, sign your petition, pay higher taxes, and might even stand next to you at a school board meeting waving a sign.

Is that going to have a big impact on what school I choose for my kid? No, probably not. I'll choose the school that can best meet her needs. Should I choose a school with an Autism inclusion program, just to be nice? I'm not even sure there is one in my cluster. Madrona has an autism program, but you've said it's short on inclusion. Madrona has none of what I'm looking for. If it turns out that the school I pick, based on the criteria I'm using, is unfair to kids with disabilities, I'll tell the principal it's wrong and work alongside you to change it. If I see that a school does a good job of integrating kids with disabilities into the classroom, that will be a plus for that school as I evaluate it. Same if I see acceleration opportunities. Same if I see many different cultures represented.

As far as the subjects I want to see in a school, I realize I'm asking for a lot. I'm asking for what I honestly believe a kid needs to succeed in a global 21st century world. I would like to see it at all schools. I'm willing to pay more taxes to have it. I really don't want to have to take away family time to send my kid to outside classes in these subjects. She'll already be in school plus after care from 9-6 5 days a week. More classes seems like an awful lot.

I know I probably won't get everything I want, even in a single private school. But, those are the things on my checklist, and I'll pick schools that have as many of them as possible. So far, TOPS, ORCA and Stevens look pretty good, as do several of the private schools in Central.

But, my point was that the problem may not be that people are shying away from diversity. The problem may be that people are looking for things in schools that are often less available at more diverse schools. And that leaves people with a difficult decsion to make. I'll take academics over diversity, but I'd really like to have both. If Madrona had put in the garden and offered after-school language classes, that might have put it in front of McGilvra on my list. Not everyone is running from diversity. Many people are running towards something else.

adhoc said...

We are a bi racial family, and while diversity is high on my list when choosing a school, it is not at the top of my list. It is what I would place on my "wish" list.

At the top of my list of requirements for any school that I choose is that the school has a culture that fosters high expectations and achievement for all. A school that has a strong and proven academic track record. A school that continually sets the bar higher than they have to, and a school with strong leadership and high quality teachers. These are hands down my number one priorities, and the ones I will not waiver on.

Secondarily, I look for things that will best suit MY child. This year we will have to choose a MS, and a HS as both of our children are moving up.

For MS, I am looking for a strong science program, access to advanced math and an ALO of some sort, and, extracurricular opportunities like math club, debate club and chess club. I also want a strong sports program as that is very important to my child.

For HS, I am looking for a school that has access to a broad range of advanced learning opportunities (AP/IB), a super strong band program, engaging electives, stable foreign language program, some "no cut" sports programs, and a strong technology focus.

Since we have the expectation that our children will go to college, when looking at our HS options I am looking at SAT scores, drop out rates, and what percent of students move on to college. We want whatever school we choose to have a culture that supports our expectation of college.

This is the scope of criteria that I use. This is how I choose "acceptable" schools.

After I make my list of schools that are acceptable, then I go to my "wish" list. Which school offers the most diversity? Which school has an inclusive and accepting culture? Which schools use progressive approaches to learning? Which school is closest to our home?

I know everyone has their own lists, and some people put at the top of their list what I put at the bottom of my list. I respect that. I'm just sharing my personal rationale.

TechyMom said...

Thank you, Ad Hoc, you said it better than I did.

seattle citizen said...

Ad hoc,
remember when many schools had all the items on your wish list (except perhaps the tech focus)?

It seems to me that the "system" isn't capable of expanding itself to include high-performing school assets into ALL school. Forty years ago, SOME students got these quality indicators. It seemed the promise was that this would expand, with civil rights, IDEA and LRE, and other recognitions of other populations that weren't served "back in the day".
Why have we failed to spread quality programs to all students?

adhoc said...

Seattle Citizen, honestly I think choice, a lack of standardization, and the District not holding schools accountable have been the driving forces behind the great disparity in Seattle schools. Schools have been not only allowed to, but encouraged to have very different course offerings, focuses, cultures, and expectations.

I understand the special focus/magnet/theme approach to education but believe these approaches should be limited to all city draw, alternative schools.

Traditional reference schools should have some standardization. There should be a predictable baseline of offerings. You should know that any middle school you choose will have three years of science, advanced math up to INT I, two years of foreign language, band, etc for example. Yes, some may offer more, but all should offer the minimum. Every high school in the District should offer a baseline of AP courses. Again, some may have more, but ALL should offer the minimum. Up until the SE initiative we had some SE HS's that did not offer even one AP course, while other schools offered 20+ AP courses.

There really isn't a global, cohesive vision for the schools of this district. They all seem to set their own expectations and goals. Some schools are wildly successful while other schools flounder.......year after year. And the District stands on the sidelines and watches.

I feel like the tides are finally turning though, and change is coming. I really hope that I'm right.

TechyMom said...

Weren't there lots of schools that had less resources and fewer offerings before choice? How many college prep classes did Cleaveland have in 1965? How many did Roosevelt have? Bellevue High?

There have always been inequities in the system. Choice didn't change that. Neither did bussing. Both may have made the inequities visible to people who weren't effected by them before, but it didn't make them worse. Making them visible is a good thing. It's the first step in fixing them.

Choice also gives us market data on what families want. They want more schools like TOPS, Roosevelt and Garfield. A few want niche schools like AS1 or AAA. A few want vocational education. A lot, in this middle-class, educucated city, want college prep. No one wants schools like Aki. The market data tells us we need big schools with strong, college prep academics and a variety of subjects, and small schools with niche programs.

Why won't we act on that data?

Melissa Westbrook said...

It's great to have a "wish list" but keep in mind; if you want clubs and sports, it takes a lot of parents willing to put in the work to make these strong. Most clubs get started by kids who want them but need a teacher sponsor. However, even with a sponsor, there have to be parents willing to work. As well, to have strong sports programs, you need parents who will help organize and, of course, raise money.

Charlie Mas said...

TechyMom asks an EXCELLENT question; in fact, I think it is THE question:

"Choice also gives us market data on what families want. They want more schools like TOPS, Roosevelt and Garfield. A few want niche schools like AS1 or AAA. A few want vocational education. A lot, in this middle-class, educucated city, want college prep. No one wants schools like Aki. The market data tells us we need big schools with strong, college prep academics and a variety of subjects, and small schools with niche programs.

Why won't we act on that data?
"

Starting with John Stanford and continuing with Joseph Olchefske and Raj Manhas, Seattle Public Schools adopted an ideology of site-based decision making. The Principals were the CEO's of their schools and made the decisions - for better or worse - about whom they would hire and what they would offer in terms of both education and services. Each school could decide for itself how to best serve its population and community and - thanks to choice - each school could create its own niche. Every school, essentially, was free to become an alternative school.

The schools were supposed to compete for students and, with the weighted student formula, funding followed the students.

Every school, to some extent, took advantage of the site-based decision making. Some really went their own way. North Beach selected its own math curriculum. Madrona decided what community it wanted to serve (not the local community) and how they wanted to serve it. Some schools strictly limited their enrollment to keep class sizes small. Some schools refused to offer certain types of programs, either advanced learning or special education or bilingual. There were a number of schools, particularly in southeast Seattle, that consciously chose to specialize in meeting the needs of under-performing students. That may have seemed a reasonable course to follow given the predominance of under-performing students in the community.

The District was supposed to assure (somehow) that the schools were teaching students all of the elements of the Academic Standards. They didn't care how you taught the elements, just so that you did. Joseph used to call this being "loose on the how and tight on the what".

The problem, of course, was that the District was not "tight on the what". Their own ideology of site-based decision-making inhibited them from performing their quality assurance duty. They didn't feel they had the license to dictate to schools - not even to demand that they teach to the Standards.

Ironically, this was about the time that the District declared itself a Standards-based learning system. Go ahead and fill in the other eye of your daruma.

The consequence of this failure to perform by the District leadership had disasterous results for schools, particularly schools in low-income neighborhoods. The schools were allowed to spiral downwards. Although part of the Choice system was supposed to be the closure, re-invention, and re-opening of schools that did not attract students, that never happened. Failing schools were not culled and cured because the District didn't feel it had license to do the job.

All of those schools that chose to focus on serving low-performing students lost nearly all of their high-performing students. They didn't regret it at the time. In fact, some of them were positively scornful of high-performing students, calling them "privileged" with a sort of reverse-snobbish sneer. This attitude, which became part of the school culture, continues to this day as culture changes only slowly.

Reputations change slowly as well. A lot of these schools are still perceived as schools for under-performing students. While the education professionals may apply that label to a lot of students, there are very few families that self-identify that way. So they didn't want to enroll their children in these schools. Moreover, the poor test scores didn't indicate that the schools were really helping the students achieve. The schools may have specialized in serving low-performing students, but they didn't appear to specialize in making them high-performing students. I doubt the sneering attitude towards high-performing students provided much of an incentive.

So that's how we arrived in the dire situation in which we find ourselves today. A large number of schools in low-income neighborhoods have the reputation of being schools for low-performing students and the test scores that confirm that reputation. Moreover, these schools were never compelled to teach to the grade level expectations. They taught to the students' level of preparedness, often a grade level or two below Standard. The whole thing became a self-fulfilling downward spiral that has brought us to the situation we have today: thousands of students in southeast Seattle leave their neighborhood for school, especially middle and high school, because the local schools are low performing, don't teach to the grade level Standards, and don't offer anything for students who are working even AT grade level, let alone beyond grade level.

Now in comes Maria Goodloe-Johnson to re-affirm the District-level responsibility of quality assurance. The District is taking back the decisions that belong at the District level, such as program placement and enrollment ceilings. The new Superintendent has come in and demanded that teachers deliver a grade-level curriculum. And she tells them that the principals are going to be checking to make sure that they do and that evaluations WILL be completed so the paperwork WILL be in place and on time to fire those who don't. She also tells the principals that education directors are going to be checking to make sure that they are doing their evaluations and completing their paperwork and the education directors will be documenting it all so the principals will get fired if they don't fulfill their supervisory duties. Wow. Just like a real workplace where you are expected to do your job and someone makes sure that you do.

Moreover, she is constraining the site-based decision making. The weighted student formula is replaced with the weighted staffing formula so principals have less discretion about how to allocate their budgets. The curriculum is going to be aligned and enforced. Since the District is determined to fulfill its duty to support struggling schools, and they cannot support the Wild West diversity of materials, non-standard materials will only be allowed for those schools that do not require the District's support. The more a school struggles, the greater the District-level interventions.

The District has started to step forward to bolster Aki, Cleveland, and Rainier Beach with the Southeast Initiative. Frankly, they have bungled it. They have never done anything like this before, so they made a ton of mistakes. They didn't bring in the programs that people wanted, they didn't change the schools like they should have. The Southeast Initiative money was supposed to be used to attract new students, particularly high performing students, but they spent most of it to better serve the low performing students they already had, particularly at Aki Kurose where the Southeast Initiative money was all spent on teachers - for stipends, for professional development, and for working an extended day. There is little new at Aki Kurose to attract the students who are leaving the neighborhood for school. It's not as if they're going north for a performing arts focus.

I don't know how long it will take for the District to gain control of the schools or to assure that every school is a high quality school. I don't know if they ever will. I do know that they are working at it and that is good.

The next steps are to dictate to schools what programs they will have. When the District is ready to exercise that kind of authority then, and only then, will we see them able to duplicate successful programs like TOPS or Roosevelt. They are taking a step in that direction by telling Hamilton and Thurgood Marshall that they WILL have APP. In the near future I think we can expect them to place a Spectrum program in West Seattle-South and perhaps relocate some of the programs elsewhere. They are going to dictate to schools how they will operate their special education and their bilingual education programs. I would not be surprised to see them re-invent a school in a year or two - to actually attempt to duplicate a successful program.

It's coming, but the District has to work itself out of the hole it dug during the past three administrations.