So I missed the annual Alliance for Education breakfast yesterday. According to an op-ed in the Times, there were 900 people which is a great turnout for public education. Not content with just an op-ed, there was also a Times editorial touting it.
Do not get me wrong; I think the revamped Alliance for Education is doing some good things and is being a lot better run than it used to be. So I am not here to say I don't like the Alliance. However, they do tend to fall into the same cheerleading camp as the Seattle Council PTSA (another group I like). And that's okay except that I truly believe it would help if the district heard some hard truths from both groups occasionally. But that never happens publicly and frankly, that's where it would count.
So the editorial was all a-glow. Here's why:
"Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson gave a compelling outline of the system's successes, including improved test scores. But the spotlight, and proof of her words, rested on the students.
There were the six students, three in elementary school who welcomed the crowd in flawless Japanese, Spanish and Mandarin, languages they are studying at one of the district's five schools with international studies programs.
Rainier Beach High School senior Travonna Wiley will be the first in her family to attend college when she heads to Clark Atlanta University next fall. Several years ago, the district, pondering whether or not to close struggling Rainier Beach, instead increased college-preparation classes. Wiley, and another college-bound student speaking at the breakfast, Tyler Pendleton, are proof the district's gamble is paying off."
Slow down, Times. Improved test scores? Is that overall because I missed that news. Has the graduation rate gone up? I missed that as well.
And as gently as I can say it, trotting out a few student successes does not make a successful district. Rainier Beach High School has ALWAYS had graduates who went to college. I would agree that having more AP and encouraging more students to take AP courses probably helps but it's way too early to be calling it a major success. And it wasn't "several years back" that the district pondered closing RBHS, it was just last year.
Then there's the op-ed piece by Patrick D'Amelio, the head of the Alliance and George Griffin who is the Board chairman for the Alliance. It's a little more realistic than the editorial.
"Why are their stories important? Because just two years ago, AP classes weren't offered on the same scale they are today at Cleveland and Rainier Beach. At Cleveland, there are now seven AP courses, up from two last year. At Rainier Beach, there are nine AP courses, up from four.
AP classes are a boost because they encourage students to think deeply, read voraciously and conquer challenging material. And of course, it's the kind of thing colleges look for in prospective students. AP classes helped Yonas stand out to Western Washington University."
Well said. But there is the more pressing issue of what about the kids who are really struggling at those schools? AP won't help them. So it might be more helpful to know how struggling kids are doing in a struggling school.
Also from the op-ed:
"There's one more thing we can all do: think big. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has challenged America to do just that. He sees a new world where schools are open 12 hours a day, and are the source of health services, art class, tutoring — whatever a student or parent needs. In that world, the school is the center of community life.
Seattle is hearing the call. At the Alliance for Education, we are reaching out to partners and to the community, to determine how to bring that model to Seattle. It's a bold vision that requires all of us — the entire Seattle community — to play a part."
And bravo! That's what the Alliance should be doing - helping the district to make these connections and get these kind of initiatives going. On its own, the district not done a lot to make the schools open to more uses. Someone needs to push them along and that push comes in the form of the Alliance.