On 9/8/09 at 1:11 PM, tg wrote...
As a new parent in the south end, I'm curious how the board will make an effort to keep families like mine in the public system if the assignment plan seems to be moving more towards keeping kids going to the schools located closest to their home. If my choices come down to sending the kid to a school with less programs and support, moving, or finding a way to pay for private school, I'll probably pick one of the latter two choices if Seattle's south end schools continue to lag behind the north. I never thought I'd send my kid to private school, but the more I read this blog and other things on Seattle's schools, the less inclined I am to stay in them, at least down here in south Seattle.
At 3:04 PM, Charlie Mas asked...
tg, I hope you're still around and can answer an open-ended question.
What would it take for you to choose your neighborhood school? What would the school have to offer that it doesn't now?
At 7:20 PM tg replied...
Honestly, I'm still pretty new to navigating the Seattle school system, but many of my old college friends are products of it (back when there was busing), so they went to all different schools and inevitably there was a fair bit of diversity at most of them (or at least that's the impression I have). I had thought when we moved to South Seattle that if we ever had kids they'd go to school around here or if that school seemed like a bad choice we'd be able to opt into a different school - I naively thought some how you just got to choose and that most of the schools were still pretty diverse with kids from across the city - doesn't sound like it really works that way anymore. I look at the high school nearest me (Cleavland) and the kids I see coming and going don't seem to reflect the diversity of the people in our neighborhood and I've started to feel like everyone that can, gets out, either by getting into a school in another neighborhood or opting for private. (the police responses and crime near the school are another issue but I'll try to stay focused here) Ideally I'd love for my child to attend a public school in the city that is diverse (racially and socioeconomically), but also has offerings in variety of a subjects (i.e. if the kid is great at languages there's more than 2 to pick from, if they're good at math, they can get through some college level math before graduating, etc.). Maybe I'm dreaming, but I would just really like school to be an experience where you learn about people with different backgrounds while at the same time you get an academic education (I tend to think private school would be alot more homogeneous in multiple ways). I get the impression that many people are pretty happy with the elementary schools (and I notice they seem much more diverse than the HS- at least visually - when I walk by them), so maybe I just need to give the system time and more families like me that want it to work, to start moving into the system.
That sparked discussion. At 8:08 PM seattle citizen wrote...
Your vision, of a diverse (demographically and academically) school is wonderful. Particularly if it could in one's neighborhood, no matter what part of town.
I think this vision is attainable.
Two caveats: Some parts of the city (not many) are not all that diverse, socio-economically, racially or culturally. Every part of town has pockets of this and that, but for the most part there is still little variance in some areas. Until the wealthy are more evenly mixed with the middle class and the poor; until there is greater cultural, racial and ethic mixing, we will still end up with some schools that are relatively homogenous.
Regarding academics, it strikes me as a chicken and egg quandry: Which came first, funding for a variety of teachers and classes or the student-driven dollars to support them? Take a school like Rainier Beach: very small student numbers, so they get little money, so they offer fewer classes, so they have less to offer, so they get fewer students...Or take Ballard: fills up every year, so there is a steady stream of dollars to fund lots of teachers, allowing some to teach non-core classes, some to teach music, etc.
Of course, the band-aide money (Title One, South-East Initiative) is SUPPOSED to alleviate some of this funding disparity, and each building also gets a base funding (or they used to...do they still?) but either the money is directed at remedial classes, because using merely a WASL lens the entire population of some schools is seen as "failing" and thus in need of WASL prep; or the money is spent on other peripherals...or merely mis-spent.
So how do we build a "big" school, fully staffed, if only 1/3 teh capacity of students come the first year? It seems impossible, given funding constraints, to fully staff a building, with a variety of at-level, below AND above offerings, with electives, with music etc, without a guaranteed student body to justify the wages of its staff.
So: the district redesigns the assignment plan, hoping to keep students more evenly distributed around the district, perhaps ensuring that a school like Beach, or Cleveland, has enough students to justify offering more (and more diverse) classes. I think that's the plan, and in a way it might be the ONLY way to do this. Otherwise, people just choose the schools that they think are "better" (and they might well be, because more students typically choose those schools, so they can offer more classes, so more people choose those schools...)
I'm all for small schools: There is a lot you can do with a little. But when schools are small because no one wants to go there, that's a problem.
Perhaps the new assignment plan will work...IF each school offers a range of quality classes, and if the community buys into the idea that this change could be good. We aren't in the sixties anymore: People DO value diversity. But they also want quality. The district will have to provide it, and people might have to wait a year or two for the change to become mature.
And at 9:14 PM SolvayGirl1972 added...
Seattle Citizen...your last line defined the entire problem. Few parents are willing to risk their child's high school education to a year or two wait "for the change to become mature."
Two years is half a high school tenure. If the quality and spectrum of course offerings aren't there, or if the teachers haven't figured out how to bring rigor to those who need it while still assisting those who might be struggling, those "guinea pig" kids could end up with a less than stellar education.
It takes small class sizes and exceptional teachers to reach a broad spectrum of students—a luxury we can barely afford at this point in time.
Personally, I'm not willing to sacrifice two years of my child's high school education to see if an experiment posed by THIS DIstrict and THIS Administration will work.
To which seattle citizen responded...
I hear ya, SolvayGirl...when I posited that requisite, of parents trusting that the "new, richly varied curriculum with highly effective teachers" school would in fact work, I sort of knew that the answer would be, "they wouldn't." This is the problem.
Even if there was no "wait for maturity," I have my suspicions that many parents wouldn't trust that the bright new school would work. I don't blame them, but then we're stuck with the problem, how do we improve a school to attract more students? How do reinvigor a neighborhood school and convince people to buy in?
So where do we go from here?
How can this District - or any District - successfully turn around the public's perception of a school? Is it a chicken-and-egg problem?
It seems to me that most schools - particularly high schools - become high performing by recruiting high performing students, and not by turning students into high performers. If a significant number of the students arrive at the high school working two or more grade levels below Standard, is there any way that the high school can show strong test scores? On the other hand, if a significant number of the students arrive at the high school working beyond Standards, is there any way that the high school can fail to high test scores? For high schools at least, academic reputation seems to be built on recruiting more than teaching. High performing students will not enroll at a low performing school because they don't believe that they will be well-served there.
It seems to me that the first change that has to take place is that the schools need to recognize that they rely more on recruiting high performing students than on creating them. I have yet to see much public acknowledgement of this fact.
Then the school could turn a negative into a positive by working to recruit those students by pointing out the small class sizes in their most academically challenging classes. Do you want to be in an AP Calculus class of 30 at School G or in an AP Calculus class of 10 at School C? The curriculum and the material will be the same, the teachers are equally qualified, but you'll get more individual attention and support at School C. Then there is the Washington State scholarship for students who finish in the top 10% of their class. Would you have a better chance of being in the top 10% and winning that scholarship at School G with 177 valedictorians with 4.0 GPAs or at School C?
The problem with this solution is that the schools do not want to be seen to be recruiting these students or be catering to these students. They don't want to be seen as celebrating academic excellence. That is exactly the wrong attitude. Funny, they don't mind making themselves attractive to student-athletes. When these schools start celebrating their academic stars the way they celebrate their sports stars, when they change the culture of their school so that it is proud of academic achievement, that will be the first step towards improving the academic readiness of their incoming freshman classes.
In elementary and middle schools it is more a case of creating high performing students than it is a case of recruiting them.