Saturday, October 31, 2009

Class Size in Seattle Public Schools

Several requests have been made to have a thread on class size.

Here's what I think is out there about this issue. There was a study called Project Star done in Tennessee in 1985 over 4-years which did find that class size did matter. And, from a op-ed from Oregon Live by an Oregon state professor:

"Interestingly, the studies of the Tennessee experiment have found a clear rejection of the notion that a teacher aide can offset the effect of a large class: test results were statistically equivalent across large classes with and without an aide."

Also:

"A second study by the same team revealed that the positive effects from small classes in K-3 remained pervasive two full years after students returned to regular-size classes."

From ClassSizeMatters.org;

"Class size reduction has now been successfully implemented in 30 states across the country, according to Education Week, and many localities.

Since 2000-2001, the Montgomery County Public School District in Maryland has reduced class size in grades K-3 to no more than 15 students. When children who had been in smaller classes since kindergarten reached 2nd grade, they scored at some of the highest levels seen in the nation, according to the district’s accountability office. The district’s high-needs students saw the greatest improvements, with “consistent and, in some cases, extraordinary gains by African American students, Hispanic students, poor students, special education students, and those learning English as a second language.”

Here is a good article from the Department of Education on this issue.

Another article shows a map of class sizes throughout the country.

A professor from Northwestern University found that children did do better in smaller classes overall but that high achievers did the best and so the achievement gap did continue to exist.

I remember that when my kids were at Whittier that we used money in the budget (there was no I-728 then) to keep K-2 at about 20-21 kids (Helen S, is that your recollection as well?). I thought this was a great idea especially for little kids with their first school experience and that it was the crucial learning to read time.

I have always had it on the back burner to get the the root of the I-728 money. I know that it comes and goes in size and that it gets used for all kinds of things. Clearly, voters and parents thought we would get smaller class sizes out of it but here in Seattle, at least, it hasn't. I'll have to try to get this figured out.

For me, the bottom line is reality. A good teacher can handle a bigger class, sure. A bigger class for a mediocre or poor teacher is likely a disaster.

But c'mon, studies aside, we're all human beings. We know, without being a teacher, that having a smaller class allows the teacher to know the students better (especially their learning styles) and be able to help them more easily. It has got to be a lot less likely for the kid who is quiet and behaves to fall through the cracks. Overall, it just has to be easier for a teacher to do his or her best job with fewer students.

I don't care what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson says. Class size does matter (or it sure does to parents and I bet it will matter to her once her own child starts school). But it's all about money. Article after article talks about the difficulty of finding the money. And I have no idea how to solve that issue.

50 comments:

Sahila said...

MGJ's daughter will have automatic access to small class sizes at the New School/South Shore, where she's in (free) Pre-K, I've heard... so MGJ doesnt have to worry - she's alright Jack... and we've all read her comment that she doesnt lose any sleep at night that our kids are suffering under the detrimental effects of large class sizes....

You know tho - with MGJ's perspective that class size doesnt matter, why do you think she chose South Shore for her child????

lak367 said...

We were talking about Bryant on the open thread, so I'll continue here with what I know.

I think it would be interesting for families throughout the district to look at their October 1 enrollment numbers, then with your knowledge of your school, calculate class sizes so we can all learn.

Here's current Bryant data:

K, 94 kids in 4 classes (23-24 per)
1, 108 kids in 4 classes (27)
2, 96 kids in 4 class (24)
3, 78 kids in 3 classes (26)
4, 77 kids in 3 classes (25-26)
5, 84 kids in 3 classes (28)

You can see how in the last few years, there would have been reasonable class sizes in K-2 because those cohorts were under 90 children. The former principal was a strong advocate for small 1st grades in particular, so 80 or so kids in 4 rooms worked out well. Historically, classes condensed down to 3 teachers at 2nd grade. But that wasn't possible this year. My cohort was told in the spring we'd have 5 teachers for 1stg grade for 108 kids, but that also didn't happen. And there was no communication about it; just large class sizes posted on the walls a few days before school started.

Because they have failed to address capacity issues in the NE, they have recently been putting a lot of kids at Bryant; just look at current K-2 total numbers. As these cohorts move up, we are looking at 30+ in each class at higher grades if they have to condense into 3 rooms.

So I want to know what the plan is for our school. Are we going to enroll 90+ K kids again next year, who will need 4 classrooms? Or are they going to manage our bubble cohorts by reducing the number of incoming Kindergardeners for a year or two? There are 21 total classrooms that must handle all kids, K-5.

And how does that work with the new SAP? People here want to grandfather their children into their current school. Do families now in McDonald/Sandpoint boundaries want to keep their kids together at Bryant if it means that their older child will be in a class of 33 children? Because if we have 4 K classes again next year, there won't be a "spare" teacher to move up with the 2nd grade cohort.

Selfishly, I hope that McDonald and Sandpoint open as K-5 because our cohort of 108 children at Bryant could benefit from class size reduction if some families choose to move their older child to the younger child's school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And there's the issue with opening at K-1 for McDonald and/or Sand Point. If the district expects (hopes) families will move an older child to join a younger child, well then, you need a K-5. Otherwise, the district is making you a two-school household (unless you want to try to get both into an Option school - Jane Addams anyone?).

I have been pondering this grandfathering of siblings and I'm thinking my hopeful estimate of a 2-3 year transition period is probably high. I think they'll say a one-year transition period with grandfathering of siblings for that period.

adhoc said...

New School should certainly not get any preferential treatment, but.....instead of making sure New School fills to the max like every other school, I wish we could work toward replicating, at all of our schools, the things that work there, starting with reduced class size.

I think it's hard to get out of the rut of large class sizes once you are in it. How could we reduce class size at this point? What would work? Where would we put all of the students? How would we fund it.

We might have had an opportunity - instead of closing schools last year we could have used those schools to spread students out thinner, thus reducing class size.

Would it cost a lot? Heck yes. But if we can pay for our bloated central office staff, we can surely pay for more schools and smaller class sizes.

LA Teacher's Warehouse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
spsmarketshare said...

It is worth noting that lowering class size will make Seattle Public Schools more attractive to parents who currently send their kids to private school. Smaller class sizes is a big reason Seattle parents choose private schools over public schools.

If Seattle Public Schools offer lower class sizes, part of the costs of the additional classrooms could be offset by increased revenue due to increased market share. State funding for Seattle Public Schools is per pupil, so the more Seattle children we attract to our schools, the more money we have for our schools.

dan dempsey said...

Whoa there ...
Someone mentioned interventions and helping kids catch-up....

Where is this happening?

District wide approximately 25% of kids enter grade 9 in math clueless condition (according to grade 8 WASL scores). So where are these interventions taking place?
------

In regard to what MG-J says....
She said that there would be reductions in the Central Administration due to budget restriction that brought about teacher RIFs. She also stated that coaching positions at the central office were being eliminated unless they were paid directly with a grant that was specific for coaching. [ Sorry but I do not believe much of what MG-J says in this regard .. Cheryl Chow believes it is all about PR spin ... and that is exactly what I think this is. ]

There are still open math coaching positions advertised on the district website.

Of particular interest is MG-J and the SE Initiative. Sept 2008 School Improvement plans all mentioned specific goals to improve WASL scores. When the WASL goals for reading, math, and writing are examined. Rainier Beach, Cleveland, Franklin, and Sealth went a combined Zero for 12 on meeting those goal targets. Examining the scoring for those 12: the scores were lower in 2009 than in 2008 in reading, math, and writing at RBHS, Sealth and Franklin.

Lots of spin and no results seems to be an SPS administrative hallmark.

Class size matters but so do a number of other things. If results are important then it can be said the leadership remains largely clueless of what needs to happen.

dan dempsey said...

Chief Sealth:
Goal was to increase WASL scores to at or above district average passing rates, which was a complete failure


10th Grade Reading
Year School District Difference
2007-08 76.90% 80.70% -3.80%
2008-09 76.70% 81.60% -4.90%

10th Grade Math
Year School District
2007-08 42.70% 50.40% -7.70%
2008-09 38.20% 48.90% -10.70%

10th Grade Writing
Year School District
2007-08 80.30% 85.80% -5.50%
2008-09 71.60% 84.90% -13.30%

Rainier Beach for 2009 goals for WASL pass rates were: Reading 75% Math 40% Writing 92% none of these were achieved

10th Grade Reading
Year School District Difference
2007-08 69.10% 80.70% -11.60%
2008-09 61.50% 81.60% -20.10%

10th Grade Math Year School District
2007-08 28.60% 50.40% -21.80%
2008-09 17.60% 48.90% -31.30%

10th Grade Writing
Year School District Difference
2007-08 92.70% 85.80% 6.90%
2008-09 82.40% 84.90% -2.50%


Franklin High School
for 2009 goal for WASL pass rates were:
Reading 90% Math 55% Writing 92%
none of these were achieved

10th Grade Reading
Year School District Difference
2007-08 84.40% 80.70% 3.70%
2008-09 79.70% 81.60% -1.90%

10th Grade Math Year School District Diff
2007-08 33.70% 50.40% -16.70%
2008-09 28.00% 48.90% -20.90%

10th Grade Writing
Year School District Difference
2007-08 88.90% 85.80% 3.10%
2008-09 88.00% 84.90% 3.10%

Cleveland High School
for 2009 goals for WASL pass rates were:
Reading 76% Math 35% Writing 81%
none of these were achieved but math and reading scores did improve.

10th Grade Reading
Year School District Diff.
2007-08 62.80% 80.70% -17.90%
2008-09 64.40% 81.60% -17.20%

10th Grade Math
Year School District Diff.
2007-08 12.20% 50.40% -38.20%
2008-09 21.20% 48.90% -27.70%

10th Grade Writing
Year School District Difference
2007-08 76.60% 85.80% -9.20%
2008-09 76.20% 84.90% -8.70%

When the differences with the District averages for WASL scores are totaled for each of these schools for WASL Reading, Writing and Math the results for 2009 are:

Franklin -19.70% (-9.90%)
Sealth -28.90% (-17.00%)
Cleveland -53.60% (-65.30%)
Rainier Beach -53.90% (-26.50%)

( are 2008 totals )

Let us now realize the district
strategies for closing the achievement gap DO NOT WORK
. MG-J's Southeast Initiative is a total farce. The k-8 disaster cannot be fixed in high school.

I recommend a complete overhaul in this lame wasteful do nothing approach beginning with attention to Project Follow Through, Hattie's Visible Learning, and RCW 28A600.020 {It would have been nice if the district math guru's actually had paid some attention to the National Math Advisory Panel's report. duh??}

It is time to use strategies that are proven to work rather than continuing the useless approach of what the central administration would like to have work.

Dump the "Club Ed" in crowd philosophy and make decisions as if Education was an evidence based profession and results were important.

GreyWatch said...

Dan D - I appreciate your comments and the details on scores/goals. I'm curious if you know what is out there in terms of "evidence based" results and what you think (or what anyone thinks) SPS should be differently. Vague general question I know.

I work in the human services field and the words "evidence based" get tossed around quite a bit. We are typically at the bottom of the funding pool in terms of our ability to recruit and retain people with the analysis skills to assess what we should be doing (or not doing). We also have little time (or money) for thoughtful assessment of what works and what doesn't.

I guess I'm just thinking out loud about how to get at the answers (if they even exist).

Shannon said...

Class size is one of the factors I take very seriously when considering whether to continue on in SPS for middle school or to look for a private option.

My son is at Lowell, 3rd grade. There are 29 children in his class which is a big group for one teacher at that level.

I notice that children do not find it easy to be known, that there is a lot more 'down' time as children sit and listen to others presenting or that not everyone gets a turn. The teacher has strategies to get to each child, eventually, but with a significant gender bias towards boys - there is a lot of 'classroom management' even in these supposedly highly motivated kids.

I don't know the theory or logistics but it really makes a difference on teacher time with each child to a point when teaching strategy must change to respond.

NE Parent said...

Melissa said "I have been pondering this grandfathering of siblings and I'm thinking my hopeful estimate of a 2-3 year transition period is probably high. I think they'll say a one-year transition period with grandfathering of siblings for that period."

I certainly hope that's not the case. I think one year is a given, but if the public input is to mean anything, I think the district needs to provide a longer period (three-four years). Sibling grandfathering was the single topic that received the most comments on the SAP. The district needs to listen to parents on this one or there are going to be a lot of angry parents all over the district. And unlike the anger about closed schools or other issues, this one will not be isolated, but will be city-wide.

The district is gathering sibling data from people attending a school outside their new attendance area right after the boundary vote. I think this is an important step and it would allow the district to plan for siblings.

And lak367, it is highly unlikely not grandfathering siblings would make a difference in Bryant class sizes. For every older sibling who goes to Sandpoint or McDonald if they open as a K-5 (zero or a tiny number, I am sure), someone who was given a mandatory assignment in a prior year to Jane Addams or John Rogers may re-apply to go to their new attendance area school--and if someone leaves at an upper grade, there will be room for them now.

dan dempsey said...

Dear GreyWatch,

John Hattie, a New Zealander, has produced a monumental work: Visible Learning. He has produced effect sizes for almost every known intervention by analyzing 800 meta-analyses. Read about it here.

Project Follow Through was the largest study in the history of education. It analyzed various models for their effectiveness with educationally disadvantaged learners k-3. It started with Lyndon Johnson & the Great Society in 1967 and concluded 28 years later. More here.

The National Math Advisory Panel Final Report "Foundations for Success" was two years in the making and using evidence it made few recommendations unless they were backed up by overwhelming evidence. Students struggling to learn mathematics need a lot of explicit instruction. It advocated for preparation for an Authentic Algebra class and access to such a class. {Director Sundquist claimed to have read the report but missed all the major recommendations. He voted for Fake Algebra and little in the way of explicit instruction.} The type of spiraling used in Everyday Math is specifically cited as ineffective and NOT recommended.

The SPS uses what Hattie finds to be relatively ineffective and ignores the most effective methods. The same can be said about Project Follow Through results. The SPS uses the most ineffective model possible for math k-5.

At least in math The district office is a bloated bureaucratic mess that hampers teachers by advocating poor practices and recommending ineffective materials for adoption. Really look at the results .. no amount of Cheryl Chow's spinning can disguise the pathetic education offered in her district #7.

This entire situation belongs in Federal Court ... because the directors keep following the discriminatory practices recommended by the Superintendent.

It would be refreshing if the Directors actually directed the Superintendent.

whittier07 said...

When MGJ visited Whittier a couple of years ago she made a point of stating that class sizes do not matter, especially at a school like Whittier. In her opinion, the only schools that benefited from low class size were schools with high FRL.

Current class size at Whittier:

K - 25, 25, 25
1st - 24, 24, 24
2nd - 29, 27, 27
3rd - 28, 26, 26
4th - 30, 29
4th/5th Split - 29
5th - 30, 27

I didn't think these were too bad but I was amazed at the difference when actually being in some of the classes ... 3 or 4 more kids makes a HUGE change in class dynamics.

Central Cluster Mom said...

I know that our child's 5th grade class last year was only 21 - but this year that same teacher has 29. I have to believe that the huge fluctuation in numbers might even be harder than getting used to a consistently large class. The adjustments that have to be made year-to-year would be very difficult.

A larger class will invariably have more demands for differentiation as the number kids at different levels grows.

Class size absolutely matters when it comes to class discussions, dynamics, presentations etc. We've seen it firsthand.

Hats off to the teachers that are dealing with the large class sizes effectively.

Melissa Westbrook said...

NE Parent you said:

"And unlike the anger about closed schools or other issues, this one will not be isolated, but will be city-wide."

I have to shake my head over how many people think closures don't affect them because it's not happening to their school or in their region. There is a ripple effect to most everything in this district but it isn't always easy to discern. So now something is affecting your corner of the district and now you feel the district should pay attention to your POV?

I attended 3 boundaries meetings and only at Eckstein was the sibling issue front and center. I'm not sure it's the biggest SAP issue district-wide and believing it is because it is to you might be a misguided assumption.

It is easy to be in one place and having everyone around you agreeing on something but the district has to think district-wide.

I wonder if asking them at the upcoming meetings this week which issues came up the most would help.

SPSMom said...

Class size does matter, but SPS cannot do anything about class size w/o private funding as seen in the New School.

So since they can't reduce class size, they say, it doesn't matter. Case closed. Unless of course you want to consider charter schools....then they would change their tune and say class size does matter and charter schools are the way to small class size.

hschinske said...

Yes, there did use to be reduced class sizes in the early grades at Whittier, except for in Spectrum, where they couldn't justify a wait list *and* a reduced class size. I remember some parents agonizing over whether their child would be better off in a smaller regular class or a crowded Spectrum class (in those days the curriculum wasn't very different anyway, so it was a good question).

In my experience, though, the smaller class sizes did NOT mean there was necessarily any greater differentiation. My daughter's second-grade class had maybe 17 kids in it, and the highest reading group was still reading a much-simplified version of a book she'd already read in the original (_Little House in the Big Woods_).

Helen Schinske

NE Parent said...

Melissa, I think it's an unfortunate fact that people complain more when they're directly impacted. It doesn't mean closures aren't a huge issue. (And on a side note, I do contact the district about issues that don't directly impact me now, like high school math--but that's not relevant to this issue).

The sibling issue is not a problem exclusive to the NE. Instead, it is listed on the district's website as among the top three (they don't list them in order) on the summary of comments received district-wide, and I've heard from three directors that it's what they've heard the most from families. While I live in the NE, I've been in touch with people at 20+ elementary schools across town--and, according to them, sibling grandfathering is a huge issue to the families at their schools.

The main reason I think the sibling issue will remain alive after the final vote is that, by its nature, the sibling issue arises in the future when families go to enroll their younger child. Does that make it a more important concern than concerns over school closures? Of course not. But it does make it a concern that may not die off as quickly as the district wants. In fact, as the district apparently didn't even translate many of the documents yet (see http://beaconhill.seattle.wa.us/2009/10/31/opinion-school-assignment-plan-lost-in-translation/), many families may not even know the sibling issue (or other SAP issues) are of concern to them. I find this troubling.

Danny K said...

Class size is a factor, but not THE factor, in student performance. Teacher quality is probably more important, at least from what I've read. There's no silver bullet.

The problem with decreasing class size is twofold:
1) It's very expensive -- this state already has a mandate from the voters to reduce class size and it's being disregarded due to the financial trainwreck.

2) It doesn't just require more money, but also more classrooms and more good teachers, neither of which is easily found. If there's already a issue with teacher quality, it will only get worse if we start adding more teachers willy-nilly.

Working Together said...

I tend to agree with NE Parent. Sibling grandfathering is one of the biggest, if not the biggest issue, under the SAP. The majority of families with school-aged children do not have just one child. I don't want to make assumptions about anyone's own family, but I wonder if perhaps people who don't think this is a large issue may be people not affected by it?

reader said...

But the district can not implement a geographical boundary based school assignment guarantee, or the fundamental point of the SAP, if it uses something other than "geograhpy" as first tie-breaker. Therein lies the "sibling preference" rub. Delaying the basic solution to the problem a few years doesn't solve the problem. It just kicks the can down the street. The district should allow families to put all their kids at one school if they choose... the least popular one. And the district needs to provide a full age-range at newly opened schools, so that the 1 school thing can be a reality.

gavroche said...

Blogger SPSMom said...

Class size does matter, but SPS cannot do anything about class size w/o private funding as seen in the New School.

So since they can't reduce class size, they say, it doesn't matter. Case closed. Unless of course you want to consider charter schools....then they would change their tune and say class size does matter and charter schools are the way to small class size.


I think you're right about how the District and privatizers would change their tune about class sizes when talking about charters.

But I disagree that the District "can't do anything w/o private funding." That's what the privatizers want us to believe -- and I don't buy it.

I would argue that all we need is an audit of the Central Office and a major overhaul of its financial management practices and priorities. There is money available in this District that could be used to decrease class sizes, it's just being terribly mismanaged and channeled to some questionable places.

Of course the District CAN do something about funding reduced class sizes -- if it made it a priority.

Arguably, one of the first ways to prevent large classes is to hire or retain enough teachers. But we have a Superintendent who laid off over 160 teachers this year. Why? How much money did it actually save? And was it worth it if our kids are now jammed into overstuffed classrooms?

Shortly after the layoffs, the District announced that enrollment was UP 1,200 kids over than expected.

Whoops. Apparently the Supt. and District miscalculated -- we need those teachers. In fact we need MORE teachers.

After reading Meg Diaz's latest report about the waste going on in the John Stanford Center (“Central Administration Efficiency in Seattle Public Schools” http://docs.google.com/present/view?id=0AVRHgOkrxGL8ZGhta2I4cXJfMGZqbjZqampz&hl=en), it is very hard for the Superintendent and District to make the case that it cannot afford more teachers and smaller class sizes.

43 central office administration staff making over $100,000?? Who among us wouldn't rather that money be spent on 86 more teachers?

It's a question of priorities. And as we have amply seen this past year, through the "Capacity Management" fiasco that closed school buildings that demographics and enrollment show we still need open, bell-time roulette, musical principals, bloat at the central SPS office, back-logged building maintenance that leaves many of our kids in unsafe deteriorating buildings, foundation money that comes into the District only to be used on endless and questionable standardized tests and not on teachers, textbooks or what kids really need, the Superintendent's further demands for MORE admin staff (including two more "Broad Residents" from the pro-charter enterprise, the Broad Foundation, on which Supt. Goodloe Johnson sits on the board of directors), this District's leadership has its priorities completely screwed up.

If the levy fails in February, the blame can be firmly placed at the feet of Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson, the School Board and all the overpaid anonymous administrators who are making all these lousy and destructive decisions.

Making classes smaller is a no-brainer. If the District wanted to make it happen, it could.

We don't need the corrosive, unsupervised invasion of education privateers.

And as the recent (6/15/09) study by CREDO at Stanford University revealed, charter schools do not necessarily perform any better than public schools. In fact, 37 percent perform worse.

This study, by the way, was funded by a number of wealthy corporate players who support privatization and charters, including the Walton (Wal-Mart) and Dell families.

Their own data shows that their "solution" for "education reform" is seriously flawed.

Luz said...

Imagine the district proposes to open five schools housed in a renovated building, where they guarantee small class size, a well equipped library, a playground, enrichment classes (art, music, dance, pe, science, computer science). Imagine the district would even give parents a say on finding a principal who would head the school.

Parents assigned to that school would be enthusiastic about it, might even consider transferring their older children to the new school.

But, alas! Reality is the opening of the new schools is filled with uncertainties, from the basic question of whether the building will be safe for the students to attend.

I can’t imagine anyone being excited about being part of starting a new school under such circumstances.

And if you feel you are safe in your attendance area, please read the answer to one of the FAQs :

How often will the District redraw attendance area boundaries?

Just as a neighborhood’s population changes over time, so too will the enrollment in a school. The ability of the District to deliver services at a given building can shift with the changing needs of the students who attend. To meet the needs of a changed student population and/or a building’s functional capacity it may be necessary at some point to alter a school’s attendance area boundary.

Our demographic model is designed to predict enrollment through 2015. However, we will continue to monitor population data and adjust our projections accordingly. In addition, the district is in the process of developing a capacity-management policy to take a more proactive approach in addressing shifting demographic patterns. This approach to capacity management will include ongoing monitoring of demographic and enrollment changes to better anticipate any modifications that may be needed in future years.

So, unless you live in the gym, you can't be sure your attendance school will be such in the long run, which is why I support making grandfathering of siblings a permanent feature of the transition plan and of any future boundary changes.

iamrobin2 said...

This issue really gets me going. Class size is among the top reasons why we are looking at private schools for our soon to be kindergartner. No matter how good the teacher, differentiated learning/teaching is directly compromised by class size. Furthermore, whereas there are a few master teachers who can conduct effective lessons in a large class, there are many children who can not learn in this environment. Whether it be auditory sensitivities, issues with motor planning, ADHD, social/emotional delays, “twice giftedness” etc... big class sizes don't work for these kids.

I have yet to really grasp what MGJ's academic vision is for the district. As far as I can tell, her calls for standardization are really about going back to the assembly line-like theory of education. I find her lack of vision depressing. And despite being a “product” of SPS myself and graduating from an Ivy League college, I have little faith in SPS adequately educating my son under the direction of MGJ. My husband and I will be spending some hard nights trying to figure out how to finance a private education for our first born. Meanwhile, we have second child who does not have the same needs as our first and would probably do just fine in SPS. The question for us is whether “just fine” under MGJ leadership is good enough for building an adequate foundation for future learning. If we do choose public school for our second, it will be because of our faith in individual teachers and the UNIQUE strengths of our local school. Hopefully these pockets of success and unique experiences will not be ironed-out by the current leadership.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

" it will be because of our faith in individual teachers and the UNIQUE strengths of our local school. "

Don't count on specific teachers, UNIQUE strengths or fabulous principals stay constant during your child's career at a particular school. Under SPS, everything can change in the blink of an eye and your once wonderful school could even find itself threatened with closure. Consistency is not a key feature in SPS.

lak367 said...

Thanks to Whittier07 for providing current stats for Whittier. I hope other families let us know what's going on at their schools too.

I really appreciate this thread and the links it contains. I finally had time to read some of the linked documents.

I have to say, our own anecdotal experience matches up with the evidence. We had a child in a blended K class last year with 15 children total. Our shy, perfectionist daughter absolutely blossomed in this environment. Her teacher really knew her, AND us. Now she's in a class of 27 for 1st grade, and it's like night and day. She's unhappy, and I'm not impressed yet that any differentiated learning is going on. She's the type of kid who could be easily overlooked in this environment, and she's already told me (unprovoked!) that she spends a lot of time in class sitting and waiting for her peers to be done with the work and she gets bored waiting. I'm really looking forward to our teacher conference last this month and hoping she's had time to get to know our daughter well by then.

In the meantime, I've got private school open house dates on my calendar for this fall. Don't know where the money would come from yet, but if this year doesn't improve, we're not going to keep her in an environment that limits her potential.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Some part of me wonders if the whole I-728 initiative was just a hoax to get more money for the districts and there was never any plan to really use it to lower class size. All of us should go to our principals and ask,"What happens - in detail - to the I-728 money that comes into this school?" I'd be willing to bet very little has ever gone to lower class size.

Keepin'On said...

I-728 Money, and what it was used for is listed right on the website for each school . Go to the www.seattleschools.org page, click on a school and their "annual Report" and the accounting is there. I think you can go back 5 years. Most funds have NOT gone to reduce class size, except at the high school level.Many times they went into the black whole known as "Professional development"

Seattle Parent said...

Keepin On & Melissa,
You are both right- I-728 funds have been a catch all for almost anything goes... at the elementary school level paying for the other 1/2 of K is one of my favorites. Lowering class size?

Don't believe what the annual reports and the school budgets say. After serving on budget committees for many years, I would say the line items have nothing to do with the actual expenditures. The budget is the biggest play in manipulation of smoke & mirrors.
The school's annual reports (and the latest "school snapshots") should be read as pure fiction & fantasy.

Meg said...

I can buy that class size is an issue that there will be disagreement on, some will think it's not a driving issue, and others will think it's THE driving issue.

What I find that I come back to, though, is that teachers are happier with lower class sizes. I'm not talking 12-15 kids per class (this is public school, after all), but 21-23 instead of 26-30. It seems as if retaining good teachers would also involve working to provide them with working circumstances they feel they can perform well in, and although I hear varying opinions from administrators and parents on class size, teachers seem to have pretty firm opinions about the point at which they are mechanizing instead of seeing each kid in their class. That, more than any study (because there are studies that point both ways), sways me towards smaller class sizes.

And Melissa, I find I'm torn about the I-728 money. I feel like a loophole should have been provided to districts that had ALREADY lowered class sizes, but the loophole that was provided allowed districts like Seattle to increase class size and pretty much use the money however they wanted, which wasn't the intent of the initiative, or what voters thought they were putting through. And I do not have any data to back up that assertion. It's a total guess/assumption.

gavroche said...

Did Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson move from Magnolia to Seward Park in order to enroll her daughter in New School/South Shore before the new Student Assignment Plan took effect?

(from the "Do as I say, not as I do" file...)

from Seattle's Child Magazine
http://www.seattleschild.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080328/SCM02/923354278,
by Linda Thomas
Published: Friday, March 28, 2008

New School Superintendent Ready to Make Tough Decisions for Seattle Schools

OUR SCHOOLS

For me it's easy “I just look at Maya’s face and equate that to 46,000 kids, and say if a school is not good enough for my child, it’s not good enough for someone else’s child. - Maria Goodloe-Johnson

(...)

And I elicited a one word answer to a question about whether her 2-year-old daughter Maya will go to Seattle Public Schools when she turns 5.

“Absolutely,” says Goodloe-Johnson, 49, who is renting a house with her husband Bruce Johnson in the Magnolia area.
(...)


And now this from Seattle Woman Magazine (Sept. 2009):

http://www.seattlewomanmagazine.com/articles/sept09-1.htm

Eyes on the Prize
Meet the women at Seattle Public Schools who are leading the district through
ambitious and far-reaching changes.
by Karen Rathe

SUPERINTENDENT MARIA GOODLOE-JOHNSON, Ph.D.

(...) Goodloe-Johnson, who gave birth to her daughter, Maya, at 47, says becoming a parent changed her professional approach. “It provided me with a real story to tell,” she says. With educators and staff, it “personalizes [school assignment] to a fine point …I can honestly say, is that where you’d want your child to go?”

Goodloe-Johnson and her husband, Bruce, rent a house in Seward Park.


So what was wrong with Katharine Blaine or Lawton Elementary for her daughter?

Were the class sizes too large?

reader said...

Don't be ridiculous. Just because MGJ supposedly moved from Magnolia to Seward Park doesn't mean she did so for school assignment reasons. The truth is enough. First, nobody in their right mind would do that. New School is OK, as far as the south end goes... but not that great compared to anything on QA/Mag. And secondly, she didn't say she did that, did she?

adhoc said...

Maybe she wanted a "good" school that was also diverse.

SPSMom said...

Actually, you all need to read the most recent PTA minutes from SS.

http://sites.google.com/site/southshoreseadragons/get-involved-1/pta/pag-ptsa-meeting-minutes

In summary: They DO NOT want to be an Option School and the teachers union is forcing them to grow class size (as I read it)

Melissa Westbrook said...

People move for all sorts of reasons. I don't read anything into it. I guess I'm more surprised they haven't bought a house (it's a good market now)after two years.

Moose said...

Let's not forget that class size has EVERTHING to do with how we fund education in this state. No one wants an income tax to fund education (which is how a number of states do it) so instead we rely on a sales tax, levies and crossed fingers.

adhoc said...

"I guess I'm more surprised they haven't bought a house (it's a good market now)after two years."

My guess is she isn't planning on staying long term, so why buy a house??

lak367 said...

I want an income tax! Lots of people recognize that it would be superior to the current system. We just don't have any political leaders with the guts to make necessary reforms.

It makes a whole heck of lot more sense to tie your tax rate to the actual money you have available than to your home value, which can escalate beyond your control. If I paid $200K for my house and that's what my income level supports, then the fact that my house is now worth $600K is completely irrelevant to me, unless of course I sell it. Asking me to keep paying double-digit percent increases in my property tax bill is a joke- my income isn't going up at that same rate. At some point, I can picture the property tax bill making it unaffordable for us to stay in our house. I don't know how seniors on fixed incomes do it. And I do find it *interesting* that now that home values declined, the legislature has found a way to keep out property tax bills going up nonetheless!!

Anyway, end of tangential rant. But the point remains the same: our current tax system in WA is absurd. And I'm personally worn out by levies tied to my artificially inflated home value. I almost voted against the low income housing levy this year simply because I'm sick of this system. We need reform.

hschinske said...

lak367, I'm with you on an income tax, but as Dorothy was saying on another thread, the property taxes don't necessarily keep going up and down with the assessed value of your house. It's only if your house goes up in value *more than the average* for the area that the tax goes up.

"The County Assessor calculates the tax rate necessary by dividing the total levy amount by the amount of taxable property in the district. This number is expressed in terms of a dollar rate per $1,000 of valuation." http://www.leg.wa.gov/Senate/Committees/WM/Documents/Publications/BudgetGuides/2009/TaxGuide09.pdf

Thus, it's what *percentage* of the taxable property in the district you own that determines your share of taxes. Your *relative* valuation matters, not your absolute valuation.

Helen Schinske

Chris said...

reader, adhoc,
Whether or not it's the reason she moved, the fact that the superintendent chose a school with unusually small class sizes for her daughter tells us even she doesn't believe the "research" she spews as truth.

Chris said...

lak367, the story about your daughter is sad. I hope things get better this year. She sounds a bit like my eldest, so I have to put in a plug for our north end options "formerly-known-as-alternative:" Thornton Creek, AS1, Salmon Bay. These schools share two things that can help "easily overlooked" kids - a extra emphasis on a supportive social environment and more opportunities for the kids to take part in the ownership of their education. By the latter I mean classrooms where everyone is expected to do what they need to be doing, sometimes without explicit adult guidance. Even in my youngest's (K!) class they are learning to "work independently or in small groups" while the teacher works with other small groups or individuals. Obviously this pays off later in the ease of differentiation.

So we-all have big class sizes too, but it's worth checking out at open-enrollment time. In the meantime, talk to your child and her teacher NOW so that at least she has the freedom to use her "bored" time productively - go to the library, find a book, work on a project of her choosing, etc.

gavroche said...

QA/Magnolia is bursting at the seams because of a baby boom in that area. Its elementary schools are very full, with multiple kindergarten (and other) classes of 25 kids and up. That's why the District is talking about reopening Old Hay next year as a K-5. Sure there are good schools in QA/Mag, but they currently do not offer the smaller class sizes (or free preschool and free K, apparently) that the foundation-funded New School/South Shore offers.

What's so "ridiculous" about the head of the Seattle School District realizing that she is politically obligated to send her child to a Seattle public school, and realizing that if she stays in her current neighborhood (once Magnolia) her own Strategic Plan would pretty much restrict her options to two (possibly four) schools -- Blaine and Lawton -- that she may not want for her child?

What's so insane about her exercising her own school "choice" for her daughter -- right before she and the District lay down a new rule (SAP) that restricts choice for everyone else?

Hypocritical, perhaps, but not crazy.

I find it plausible.

And as Chris and others have pointed out, the school she chose for her child has a number of features that she has publicly or through her policy decisions, dismissed as not valuable -- such as smaller class sizes and alternative schools.

If, as she says in the Seattle Child article, "a school is not good enough for my child, it’s not good enough for someone else’s child," then why isn't she actively making sure that all the schools in the District are "good enough"?

Reducing class sizes would be a good place to start.

dan dempsey said...

A good place to start ....

would be decentralization. The Supe's plans do not work, if we are talking about all schools being quality schools. In fact WASL data shows Franklin, Rainier Beach, and Sealth scored considerably worse in 2009 than in 2008.

Her bureaucratic central administration chews up lots of dollars and produces ZERO for results in far too many cases.

DECENTRALIZATION is the place to start. Read this from Ed Week.

dan dempsey said...

If Seattle funded Central Admin at the same per child rate as the Olympia school district..... that would free up 21 million dollars annually. That could fund a lot of decentralized improvements.

h2o girl said...

One of the reasons I chose Whittier was that at the time they were using I-728 money to have the 1st & 2nd grades at 20 kids or less (in the regular ed classes). I wasn't as disappointed that we were wait-listed for Spectrum when there were 17 kids in her 1st grade class and I believe 18 or 19 in her 2nd grade. Even in 3rd grade we only had 17 kids. It amazes me how different things are in just a few years. (My kid is now in 7th grade.) I feel very lucky to have had the class sizes we did.

And one of the reasons I chose Salmon Bay for middle school was their 6th grade language arts setup - they have a 2-hour block with only 20 kids for that class. The rest of the classes have 30 or so.

TechyMom said...

Isn't MGJ's daughter in pre-k? There aren't a lot of SPS schools that offer pre-k. Would she be getting flak if her daughter were in a private pre-k program? Also, I remember when I looked at South Shore's pre-k that it didn't guarantee that you got a K spot. You still had to go through open enrollment for K. Maybe that has changed since last year, or will change for next year?

agibean1958 said...

As far as I know, Graham Hill and SS are the ONLY public South Seattle schools that offer pre-K, not to be confused with Head Start or in-school building daycare preschools, like the YWCA at Dunlap.

I know-we looked when our daughter was that age. We tried, but did not get into SS for pre-K. Rather than seeing some stupid conspiracy, it makes perfect sense to me that a person with a pre-K aged child and a vested interest in having their child in public school would look at SS. Not to mention, PROXIMITY to her home!
We were actually closer to other public schools, but they didn't have PRE-K. Why is this a problem for some of you to understand??

TechyMom said...

I'm sure the commute from Seward Park to JSIS is better than from Magnolia. One of the benefits of renting, and one of the reasons to do so when you move to a new city, is that you can move easily to another neighborhood once you figure out things like commute times. I doubt that's a conspiracy either.

Stu said...

Why is this a problem for some of you to understand??

I don't think anyone has a problem with MGJ taking advantage of what New School has to offer. I think some of the comments about all of this have more to do with her lack of support for alternative programs and her on-the-record opinion about class size.

MGJ wants public school pre-k for her child but this program is only available for a select few. If this is an important public-school option, why isn't it offered everywhere? And did I read somewhere that all-day kindergarten at that school is free? If so, why is this not an option at ALL schools? And the school is famous for small class sizes . . .but that's not important, is it?

No one here condemns any parent for making the best choice for their child and that includes, for the most part, the decision to go to private school or Shoreline or whatever. However, MGJ wants centralized control of schools, with cookie-cutter programs, and has sought something out for her child WITHIN the system she's been dismantling.

It's not hard to understand what she's doing and I wouldn't be surprised to see, should she want her child to get into a different program when older, say something like JSIS, her renting a home within that "guaranteed assignment" area. I would be surprised, however, if she was with this district that long.

stu

adhoc said...

"I'm sure the commute from Seward Park to JSIS is better than from Magnolia. "

Yet, MGJ didn't buy a house in Seward Park, she rented.

It just makes one wonder if she is planning on staying long term....or not.