Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Curricular Alignment Meetings

If you go to a Curricular Alignment community meeting - and I encourage you to go - the question you should be asking is this one:

"We've tried this before without success. How will it be different this time?"

There are four necessary supports for curricular alignment which are NOT in place. The people who are responsible for curricular alignment do not have control over these elements, so they can't make them happen. We have tried for years without success to establish these four necessary supports, but have never been able to realize them. So the central questions to curricular alignment will be "What will be different this time that allows us to do what we have never been able to do before?"

Keep asking:

How can we be sure that the students are learning the curriculum? If students who are working below grade level do not get any intervention, then they will not be ready and able to succeed with the grade level curriculum. There will be no vertical alignment for them. They will continue to just get passed along and they won't do any better. Where are the interventions needed to make curricular alignment successful? You will be told that the District is working on them, but they are NOT in place. Without them, Curricular Alignment is doomed. Note that we have always needed these interventions. Needing these interventions is nothing new, yet we have not been able to reliably provide them. What has changed that assures us that we will be able to reliably do what we have never been able to do before? There will be references to the MAP testing to identify the under-performing students. Okay, good. But how can we be assured that the identified students will get the necessary services?

How can we be assured that the teachers are teaching the curriculum? If the teachers choose not to teach the curriculum then the whole effort is a non-starter. Where is the assurance that the teachers will teach the curriculum? You will be told that principals are supposed to observe classes and confirm that the curriculum is getting covered. Okay, good, but haven't principals always been responsible for that, yet they haven't actually been able to make it happen. You will be told that the MAP testing will reveal whether the curriculum has been covered. That's a start, but where's the effective action that creates the change following the collection of the data? The teachers, I suppose, could get less favorable evaluations, but so what? Is any teacher actually going to get fired or get paid less as a consequence of not teaching the curriculum? And, in the absence of these consequences, what has changed that assures us that teachers will teach to the curriculum?

How can we be assured that the teachers know what to do and how to do it? Will the teachers know the Standards? Will the teachers know how to differentiate instruction? Will the teachers know how to scaffold for students working below grade level? Will the teachers know how to stretch and accelerate for students working beyond grade level? Will the teachers know how to do both of these at the same time in the same classroom of thirty students? Where is that assurance that the teachers will know what they are supposed to be teaching? You will be told that there will be professional development. That's good, but we have had years and years of professional development on the Standards and on differentiation and none of it has been effective. What has changed that will make this professional development successful when all of the previous professional development has failed? And if we knew how to make the professional development effective, why haven't we done that before?

The focus is on college-readiness and getting students into college-prep courses. Where is the assurance that all of the schools - middle and high schools - will offer these advanced classes? Will the District require schools to provide access to some set of required classes including honors classes, advanced classes, and, at the high schools, AP and IB classes? Where is the assurance that college-prep classes will be available at all schools? You will be told that the District is working on this, but surely the District has been working on this for years and we still are not there. What has changed that will suddenly make the District able to guarantee access to advanced classes? How can they reconcile that assurance with the fact that the middle schools no longer allow students to take the highest level of math that they used to offer? The District is REDUCING access to that class - despite assurances that they would not.

And then, the biggest question of all, when the District fails to deliver authentic curricular alignment due to the failure to provide one or more of these necessary supports, where is the assurance that they won't substitute standardization for alignment in an effort to emulate alignment? How do know that they won't go all totalitarian (Bellevue style) in an effort to force it?


Limes said...

So Charlie, what do you recommend the District do?

LynneC said...

Charlie, did you go last night?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'd recommend that the district do what it takes to make this work instead of sending something out there half-done and then blaming teachers when it doesn't work.

You need a solid foundation for all this to work. There is no real way to know if it does or does not work without that solid foundation. So they could be doing a lot of work that won't hold up without those supports.

Charlie Mas said...

Yes, I went to the meeting last night at Rainier Beach High School.

The difference between complaining and whining is that a complaint includes a solution.

First thing, I recommend that the District be prepared to fire principals who don't do their jobs. That job includes confirming that teachers are teaching - at a minimum - the core set of knowledge and skills that students are supposed to learn, delivering early and effective interventions to all students, K-10, who are working below Standards, delivering appropriate challenge to all students who are working beyond the Standards, and creating a culture in their community that values learning.

I recommend that the District provide the necessary professional development and support to teachers to allow them to do their jobs. I recommend that the District be prepared to fire teachers who don't do their jobs. That job includes: teaching the curriculum, effectively and meaningfully differentiating instruction, and managing their classrooms.

I recommend that the District institute some means to identify all students working below Standards and assuring them early and effective interventions.

I recommend that the District institute some means to identify all students working beyond Standards and assuring them additional challenge.

I recommend that the District require all middle schools and high schools to offer at least a minimum core set of honors and advanced classes. They can offer more, but not less.

I recommend that the District find and implement some effective means of professional development to give the teachers the tools they really need to do their jobs. I find it hard to believe that coaches are that means.

I recommend that the District re-define and narrow the mission of the staff in the headquarters. I recommend that they adopt a mission centered around service, support, and quality assurance. They should spend a lot more time asking and a lot less time telling.

Danny K said...

How can they reconcile that assurance with the fact that the middle schools no longer allow students to take the highest level of math that they used to offer? The District is REDUCING access to that class - despite assurances that they would not.

Is this Integrated 3 that you're referring to? Or something beyond that?

seattle citizen said...

Charlie, you nail it with your list of of recommendations.

I'd add: do not rely exclusively on "data" to make policy decision. Some things are ethereal and/or amorphous, for instance:
non-recorded interaction
outcomes over time

Teachers aren't programable instruction-delivery units - they're human beings making nuanced decisions every moment, much more nuanced than a computer.

So in addition to the recommendations Charlie makes, I'd just say, be ready for unexpected outcomes, expect that not all students will be 100%, expect that not all lessons will be %100 taught...have some flexibility and go with the flow.

Oh, and to counter othre current trends, I'd say value art, value civics, value things that aren't just "read; write; do math; do science."

dan dempsey said...

Look at the WA k-8 math standards and look at the totally misaligned EDM and CMP2.... There is Perfect internal district math instructional materials alignment "EDM, CMP2, Discovering" to mathematically disable large portions of the student population.

This can hardly be blamed on teachers.

The board has continually failed to require implementation of D44 & D45 the promotion/non-promotion policies that require effective interventions. SPS directors apparently buy into the differentiated instruction fairytale of which there are no studies showing a positive effect produced from differentiated instruction.

I would recommend a decent curriculum i.e. the state math standards and a plan to teach these standards ... but look what the teachers have for instructional materials:

EDM emphasizes its own focus algorithms not the standard algorithms of the state standards.
EDM uses a non-mastery based spiral approach that has been shown to be ineffective.

Good luck with getting admin to even attempt to fix this debacle.

The board adopted a High School math series that fails to emphasize arithmetic based algebra. Instead of authentic algebra as described by NMAP .... Seattle has Pseudo algebra.

From Maryland comes this:
Dr. Ronald Williams, (a vice president of the College Board and past President, Prince George's Community College, (in MD)) noted:

There is a chasm between what students are learning in high school math and what colleges demand (arithmetic and arithmetic-based Algebra).

Having students rely on calculators is a very good strategy if the only
goal is to have students pass the state of MD HSA on Algebra, which has students using calculators and avoiding Arithmetic. But this is setting-up graduates to take remedial arithmetic and remedial arithmetic-based Algebra I in college.

“It’s the math that’s killing us,’’ noted Donna McKusik, the senior director of remedial education at the Community
College of Baltimore County. More than one in four college remedial students work on elementary and middle school arithmetic. Math is where students often lose confidence and give up on Community College.

Good Luck Seattle working through this mess brought to you by Team MJG and 4 school directors.

Professional Development in math:
Look for more "Best Practices" with no evidence these practices are best.

Joan NE said...

I just don't get why so many on this blog are so in favor of rigid curricular alignment. The math adoption debacle beautifully illustrates a core problem with curriculum alignment. What happens in a district that rigidly enforces (as SPS does) adherence to a curriculum that is terrible?

It has been perplexing to me that the District is so committed to reform math, considering how awful it is. Even the APP kids at Lowell are frustrated and having trouble with EDM. (I know this because I have a child in the APP program.) I hear that APP parents may seek a math curriculum waiver. I am certian they will not get it.

I think I have finally come up with a plausible explanation for this preference. Before I can explain my hypothesis, I have to give some background information. In the situation that a school has failed to make AYP for three years running, NCLB requires that a District give the student the option of private tutoring (at District expense) or give the student enroloment in a school of their choice. The private tutoring option in NCLB is referred to as SES (for supplemental education services).

Consider two districts: one uses a strong math curriculum, one uses a terrible math curriculum. The latter district will end up with far more students who qualify for SES. This means that private tutoring companies in the latter district will get a lot more business. Also, the second district will get more failing schools, and more justification for creating charter schools. The charter schools don't have to adhere to the district's mandated curriculum; they will choose a better math curriculum so that they can bring their students up to standard more easily than the non-charter public schools.

This explanataion may not be right, but it is much more satisfying to me than are these explanations: corruption, stupidity, incompetence, pigheaded idealogical commitment, and sadism.

I have noticed that the poor attention paid in reform math to helping and encouraging students develop automaticity in fact knowledge (rapid, accurate recall of arithmetic facts) leads to much greater difficulty for students when they try to learn fifth grade rational number aritment (such as adding fractions with disimilar denominators). Reform math would be much improved if it did a better job with fact fluency. Given this, how are we to interpret Randy Dorn's decision to disregard the State fact fluency learning expectations? I don't know how to account for these varoius observations, except to conclude, as preposterous as it sounds, that reformists do not want non-charter public school students to be successful in math, unless they are getting private tutoring through the SES requirement.

It is a mere coincidence that EDM comes out of the same University that the school choice movement was born in? The school choice (i.e. vouchers and charters) concept was a brain child of Milton Freidman, at University of Chicago School of Economics. Does that fact that reform math is also called "standards-based" math show that reform math was designed to go with high-stakes testing?

It seems to me that another intent of reform math is to bring down the top, so to speak, meaning bring down the achievement of the brightest students within the public schools. To bring down the performance of the best students helps to close the achievement gap.

Is it not true that a good grounding in math and the deductive and analytical thinking skills it engenders, helps children to develop and acquire confidence in their general critical reason abilities. Some people say that one purpose of standardized school reform is to produce submissive workers. Certainly, keeping the public school masses from developing good critical thinking skills will help to serve this goal.

Charlie Mas said...

Joan NE, let's not confuse curriculum with materials or pedagogy. The failure of EDM is rooted first in the pedagogy and then in the materials. It's not in the curriculum.

The curriculum is the core set of knowledge and skills that we expect the teachers to teach and the students to learn. That should be the same at every school. There should not be any school with academic expectations lower than that core set.

Joan NE said...

Charlie you have written several times that you adamantly oppose standardization of texts and pedagogy, but feel curriculum aligment is absolutely necessary.

As far as I can tell, the district does not distinguish curriculum alignment and standardization of textbooks on its website, especially in math.

Is standardization so bad in mathematics? Suppose the District had picked effective, high quality math materials. Would you still say curriculum alignment in math is good, standardization of math materials is bad? In math, the text is extraordinarily important-not only its internal consistency, clarity, and pedagogy, but also its emphasis. The textbook needs to match the standards.

If curriculum alignment means "bringing down the top" in order to close the achievement gap, then I am not in favor of curriculum alignment. Bringing down the top doesn't serve the goal of "excellence for all." The insistence of the district that RHS eliminate popular, challenging language arts electives, is an example of "bringing down the top," isn't it?

If curriculum alignment means to make the curriculum narrowly focused on the knowledge and skills encompassed by the high stakes test, then I am not a fan of curriculum alignment.

Joan NE said...

charlie - mabye you would call "bringing down the top" and narrowly-focused course content as "standardization" rather than "curriculum aligment." If so, then you and I have no disagreement on this. But I argue that when the district uses the term "curriculum alignment," it implies implies these things. I just can't find any evidence on the district website that there is really any distinction being made.

Joan NE said...

Charlie: I entered "math curriculum" as a search term within the SPS domain. Here is what I found:

"Seattle Public Schools (SPS) will adopt an aligned curriculum for all grades in math and science. An “aligned curriculum” means that students in any one grade in the District are held to the same high expectations (with the same high quality materials) and that those expectations build on one another as students advance from one grade level to the next."

source: http://www.seattleschools.org/area/math/math-adoption/mathadoptionhome.htm

If you read more of this webpage, you will see that the district also specifies "methods."

Do you still hold that when the District says "curriculum alignment", they do not also mean "standardization of materials and pedagogy?"

dan dempsey said...

Dear Joan NE,

It seems that standardization of materials and pedagogy is a necessity for the effective use of 111.5 academic coaches. Don't ya want that 10+ million dollars used efficiently each year?

LynneC said...

I think that what we have here is a question of semantics. "Alignment" sounds good to people; "standardization" sounds bad. Both the board and the district are wise to this and are being careful in the language that they are using. I think the more important thing is to focus less on the terminology used and more on what this effort will mean in high school course offerings and in the classroom. If, to take Language Arts as an example, the result of "alignment" is that high school courses across the district are boiled down to LA9,LA10,LA11, LA12 with a list of books from teachers to choose from and little opportunity for teachers to develop their own curriculum,that's a bad thing. People scoff now at school-based decision making, but it wasn't all that long ago that this district was touted nationally as an example of such an approach, and high schools were encouraged to devise unique and innovative curriculum. There was good and bad to this approach and the pendulum has obviously swung way back the other way,and the move towards a more standard curriculum has to be part and parcel of the limitation of school choice in the new SAP. But it is frustrating to me that in its current attempts to "align" course offerings there is no effort at all to look at the unique offerings developed by some high schools and try to replicate those programs. Instead the district is looks solely to outside foundations and consultants to develop course offerings and whatever reassuring words MGJ and the curriculum people at the district use, I fear thatit is inevitable that there will be a dumbing down of the curriculum. Although programs like LA Options at RHS may survive, it is most likely that they will be electives and will not serve to fulfill students LA graduation requirements.

And Limes, here's what I'd like the district to do. Take all the money, people and effort being poured into curriculum alignment by the district and the Gates Foundation and use that to give struggling kids the supports they need to succeed. I'd venture to guess that the vast majority of the kids who are failing in high school have undiagnosed learning disabilities. The district does a terrible job currently supporting these kids, and students whose families are without the time and resources to provide that support are set up for certain failure by the time they hit middle school and high school.

Charlie Mas said...

I agree that many of the people in the District cannot distinguish between curricular alignment and standardization. It isn't really a subtle difference, yet it seems beyond them. I cannot explain that.

I would expect that a significant part of the effort will have to be professional development for teachers and principals about what curricular alignment is, what it isn't, what it should look like, and what it should not look like. That then needs to be followed by some sort of oversight to make sure it does not devolve.

Joan NE said...

Charlie - you're concern that the district should distinguish between CA and Standardization seems misplaced to me. In one of my earlier posts I asked you a few questions which try to get you to think about this, but you haven't answered them. One question was "Is standardization of math textbooks so bad?" I would say that it is very good, as long as the textbook series that are mandated are very good.

LynneC - I am conceptually aligned with you.

Dan - I fear that AS#1 2008-2010 CSIP is representative of what coaches are being used for: To enforce strict fidelity to district curriculum/materials. I am not surprised by this CSIP - I have been reading about what is happening in other districts that are "Broad-infected." My expectation is that if we continue on this standardization reform path, all of SPS will look like what the District is forcing at AS#1. www.seattleschools.org/area/csip/csips/as1.pdf

What is happening at AS#1 is the mildest form of a "district intervention." These will become commonplace, if we stay on this path. In its other forms (building closures, reconstitution, conversion) district interventions are very distruptive and harmful to student and teachers.

As we continue on this path, we will see that all the alternative schools - even those that are getting high WASL scores - will be converted to traditional schools (as is happening to AS#1). There will be no self-contained program for the highly-gifted. There will be no non-district mandated humanities and science electives at any of the high schools.

Spending on psychosocial and other conselling support services and social skills curriculum will be cut back.

The District will be using Instructional Leaders (Principals), Teacher Mentors (here they call them coaches), Learning Walks (it appears that training on Learning Walks has started to occur in our District), Performance Management Systems, and merit pay (when it comes) to compel teachers to teach-to-the-test and strictly adhere to pacing guides.

All Professional Development for teachers will be aligned with the Excellence for All Plan.

This program will ensure that, once we have merit pay and charter schools, the public schools will be uniformly mediocre and will be indifferentiable (except for WASL scores and site-spestudent/teacher-safety climate), the teachers will be strictly adhering to the teach-to-the-test curriculum and pacing guides. The charter schools - if and when they come - in low-income neighborhoods will closely resemble Mastery Charter School http://www.masterycharter.org/files/MasteryCharterSchoolOverview2009.doc (unless they are demonstration projects, in which case they will have foundation funds and great programs). The non-charter schools will be the fall-back for kids counselled out of or kicked out of charter schools; there will also be "safe schools" for kids expelled from charters and non-charter public schools.

We will see a few very good non-charter public schools (probably as theme-based high schools) and charter schools - these will serve the most affluent communities in the city.

If this state decides to sell its educational soul for a pittance (i.e., to "enter" the Race-to-the-Top "competition") the state has show its commitment to school reform by "turning-around" a certain percentage of schools.
This is really bad news. Furthermore, to qualify for RTT the state or districts have to be willing to basically give school property over for charter schools. This is outrageous.

If charters come to Seattle, we will see financial outrages (corruption) having to do with disposal of school property, and with decisions about where high quality magnate programs are placed.

Those of you (Charlie, Melissa, Abc,...) who are frustrated that the Board is not holding the Superintendent accountable for failing to meet her Strategic Plan benchmarks -- be careful what you wish for.

Charlie Mas said...

Joan NE, I guess I have not been clear.

I do not support standardized texts - regardless of the quality of the texts. If there are wonderful textbooks out there, then schools will choose them.

I acknowledge that researching textbooks can be a big job, but schools and teachers can rely on the work that the OSPI does along those lines. The District could do similar work and identify a range of preferred texts to support various perspectives, populations or pedagogies.

Joan NE said...

Charlie, I disagree on you that standardization of textbooks is absolutely and always bad, especially in the area of math. It sounds like you are not even open to hearing what is the problem with every school picking their own math books.

And whether you like it or not, when the District says "curriculum alignment," they also mean standardized of textbooks, materials, pedagogy, and pacing. The main purpose of instructional leadership, teaching coaches, and performance management is to enforce the standardization sought by the District. Standardization advocates know well that teachers cannot be counted on to follow the District scripts if there is not a strong enforcement regime.

Curriculum aligment is going to ruin the alternative schools. In effect, within a couple years, all the alternative schools will be converted to traditional schools.

Is this a pro or a con of curriculum alignment in your view?

Curriculum alignment also means the dismantling of the self-contained APP program. Is this a pro or a con of curriculum alignment in your view?

Curriculum alignment also means the elimination of the healthy experimentation that is going on in alternative schools. This is beneficial for the entire school district, since it brings to light practices that get absorbed into and make stronger the programs at traditional schools. Is the elimination of this experimentation a pro or a con of curriculum alignment in your view?

Keep in mind that we have some very effective alternative schools, and that there are kids in SPS who are finding success in their alternative or APP program, but would fail in a traditional program. Is it a pro or a con that kids won't be able to avail themselves of alternatve programs when they find that the traditional format doesn't work for them?

Jan said...

Joan: Charlie can best argue his own points, but here were my thoughts when I read your post to Charlie -- coming from someone who has always been a "school decentralization" proponent:
Math: If ever there were a subject where standardized texts made sense, I suppose this is it -- but it has been a nightmare in the SSD for years -- TERC, CMP, everyday math, and now Discovery (which while not as bad as some of its predecessors, was much weaker than some of the others considered.
Frankly, I am hard pressed to see that individual schools would do worse, especially with an aligned curriculum (i.e. - by the end of grade X, students will be able to add and subtract fractions, by the end of grade Y, -- all of which I thought we HAD! And the standardized texts that have been forced on the schools have NOT worked. So, I say -- let em all loose! Saxon, Singapore, whatever. I can almost guarantee that individual schools would begin to ditch ED for better materials if they could.

I tend to agree with you that "standard texts" may be trying to sneak into the "aligned curriculum tent, but that is the battle we face. Bellevue has been there for some time, and I am hopeful that eventually, parents and the greater community will send this dreadful idea packing, if it ever gets established here. I think MGJ was pretty candid from the start that she wanted to standardize everything -- and the board hired her anyway (she "promised" that schools that could prove that they could reach there goals using alternatives would be allowed the leeway to do so -- hmmm). Haven't heard much about THAT lately!


Jan said...

As for alternate schools -- curriculum alignment MAY destroy them (and will, if it becomes standardized texts and pedagogy), but doesn't have to, if it is "just" an aligned curriculum -- but this is where things become more complicated.

For the most part, I have always assumed that many/most families choosing alternate schools still want and intend that their kids will come out of the process knowing how to write standard essays, do algebra, read and be able to analyze good literature, write a reasonable lab report, etc. HOW they get there may vary, but an aligned curriculum allows variation in the "how."

How much farther one goes in giving alts "curricular leeway" is debatable, but the Seattle school community has never really had that debate -- as far as I know. Could you have a "summerhill" type school, where kids learn whatever they want to, whenever they feel ready? What about Waldorf, where as I understand it they teach reading later -- but they all end up at the same place eventually? At this point, the consensus seems to be that we owe it to all schools to make sure that there is a "floor" curriculum (you can offer more, but not less).

As for APP, they will clearly have their own, accelerated curriculum (in fact, they were supposed to have it already, but never mind).

My thought is that IF there is an "alternate" school concept that involves tweaking the curriculum (either as to the timing of when things are taught, or the actual "deliverables"), then that school would have to present, and justify, the curriculum changes it proposes (and that its families presumably want).

Joan NE said...

Jan - "Thornton creek, as an alternative is supposed to have freedom to choose its own curriculum. When it became clear that there was a lot of parent support for replacing EDM, the school staff did some research, picked a math curriculum that they wanted instead of EDM, the parents agreed to pay for it, and then the school applied for a wiaver. The district wouldn't grant it. So your thought on how it should work, is not how it does work.

Thornton Creek has many parents with Ph.D's, so you can bet that parents at this school care a lot about academic preparedness. It so happens that TC WASL scores are on par with the nearest traditional schools (Viewridge, Wedgwood, Bryant, Laurelhurst), even though our school DOES NOT teach to the test.

TC proves that standardization, curriculum alignment, and teaching to the test are not necessary for students to be successful in the standard sense.

Curriculum alignment will make it hard for the school to do justice to the parts of the program that parents care a lot about - especially the social skills curriculum, and expeditionary learning.

It is so strange to me that the District supports the New School - which has a progressive, rich, hands-on intellectually challenging curriculum, but doesn't support TC, which has a progressive, rich, hands-on, intellectually challenging curriculum.

Why is it o.k. for the New School to have this, but not for Thornton Creek?

I think I know the reason, but I would like to hear your answer.

If you are worried about standardization, then you better find out what these terms mean: Instructional Leadership, performance management, teacher mentors, and learning walks.

These are all about enforcing pacing guides, and its all coming to Seattle. If you don't want standardization, then you might want to speak out against curriculum alignment, because in this district they [curr.alignment and standardization] are intimately linked and are inseperable.

As for APP, the district is already making significant progress at weakening the program. The intent to do so is spelled out in documents on the district website. This serves the purpose of artificially closing the achievement gap (brings down the top).

If you don't approve of charter schools, then you might also want to oppose curriculum alignment. The push to align curriculum will help to increase public appetite for charter schools.

Does this sound like conspiracy theory? I wish that it were.

Josh Hayes said...

Joan NE, I certainly understand your concerns about AS#1, although it sounds like you have kid(s) at Thornton Creek, rather than AS#1.

It's certainly true that the district has been vigorous in demanding compliance with math curriculum standards, but in both of my kids' classes (4th and 7th grade) teachers are heavily using the Singapore "enrichment" option, since EDM sucks so hard that nobody can breathe in the same room with an EDM textbook.

As for the flexible pedagogies, it's true that AS#1 has had to give ground on some aspects of the approach. There is clearly a feeling that we have to keep our head down lest it be lopped off. On the other hand, my 7th grade son has begun to learn graphic art techniques and is also learning in depth about the Holocaust. I don't know that those things would be possible in, say, Whitman, which is our reference middle school.

No question, the "A" in AS1 has been eroded, and no question, SPS central is positively hostile toward alternative schools. But we have to recognize this, and work to find a way forward for our kids, rather than simply whinging.

Joan NE said...

Josh - Did you mean "whining", or "whinging"?

Does it bother you that the District allows New School to be progressive, even as it is quashing alternative schools? How do you interpret this double-standard? Nobody on this blog has yet been able to answer this question (I already know the answer). Maybe you can be the first.

This is an important question; it isn't just me complaining about life being unfair. It is much more significant than that.

Joan NE said...

Josh - you wrote "SPS central is positively hostile toward alternative schools. But we have to recognize this, and work to find a way forward for our kids, rather than simply whinging."

Do you mean accept the district's meddling as inevitable, and try to make the best of what the District hands us?

Look, policy C54 is still on the books, last time I checked. It is a good policy. The Board isn't enforcing it. Why not? Isn't it worth fighting for? How do we induce the Board to make the Superintendent uphold this policy? Any ideas?

Charlie Mas said...

Joan NE wrote: "And whether you like it or not, when the District says 'curriculum alignment,' they also mean standardized of textbooks, materials, pedagogy, and pacing."

That was my fear. I'm less fearful of it now after having attended a Community Meeting on Curriculum Alignment and specifically confronted them on that very concern.

I suggest you do the same.

I recognize that by lowering my pitchfork (metaphorically) I am doing the one thing that I warn others from doing: accepting a promise of future action from the District.

As we move forward to garner the benefits of curricular alignment, I'm not sure what protections we could secure against the ills of standardization. If there were some way to write those protections into the process, I would fight for them.

Charlie Mas said...

Is there some way that we can pursue the benefits of alignment without leaving the door open to mindless standardization of materials, pedagogy, and pacing? How can we build protections into the very warp and weave of the work? How can we integrate the interventions for underperforming students, the additional challenge for advanced learners, the thoughtful review of teaching practices (as opposed to the clipboard checkbox), and the encouragement for creative pedagogy and supplemental materials? It is absolutely critical that we keep the focus on the knowledge and skills that students are supposed to acquire - exclusively.

It appears to me that no matter what Kathleen Vasquez or Cathi Thomplson say about curricular alignment, what it is and what it isn't, the working definition will be set by the principals and what they communicate to the teachers in the way of expectations and evaluations.

I think the solution will be found in the instructions to principals and what they are supposed to look for as they observe teachers. The fear is that they will check to confirm that the teacher has the class on page 67 on November 14th. The hope, however, is that the principal will observe the class and review the assignments looking for the content and skills in the curriculum, and that the principal will be specifically asking the teachers to identify their students in need of additional support - and what they are doing to provide it - and to identify their students needing additional challenge - and what they are doing to provide it. I think it would be well for principals to specifically ask about supplemental materials and creative pedagogy - as positive innovations instead of signs of deviance from some ideal. The supplemental materials and teaching practices that prove effective can be shared. This would confirm the perspective that they are approved and encouraged.

It will, of course, fall to the education directors to guide the principals to this higher understanding of the effort and to keep them away from enforcing mindless standardization.

Honestly, I don't think all of the principals get this. I think some of them don't really understand the difference between curricular alignment and top-down insistance on conformity to the standards. Perhaps it will turn on the assessment tool they are given.

Not only shouldn't we demand some sort of fidelity of implementation, we can't. Such an effort to quash our teachers' creativity and improvised responses to their students is doomed to fail - and it should fail.

We must recognize that it will be the principals, not the District staff, who will determine how curricular alignment will play out and be expressed.

dan dempsey said...

Joan NE said:
"when the District says "curriculum alignment," they also mean standardized of textbooks, materials, pedagogy, and pacing."

Which explains why an annual expenditure of $10 million is needed for 111.5 coaches ... the majority of which likely will be the enforcement police.

Remember DeBell asked: if this coaching model works?

Look no further than the Soviet Union for the model.

dan dempsey said...

In regard to math .....
Supposedly the State Standards are the curriculum but the district selected instructional materials are completely misaligned to those standards.

The board is oblivious and sits by only rubber-stamping more nonsense. Apparently completely unaware that the Seattle definition of math and how it is learned is fatally flawed.

Joan NE said...

Charlie wrote" I think the solution will be found in the instructions to principals and what they are supposed to look for as they observe teachers. The fear is that they will check to confirm that the teacher has the class on page 67 on November 14th."

Ask your child's school principal about the intructional leadership training they have already gotten. To learn more about what this and related terms mean, use these strings in web searches:["intructional leadership" principal mentor], ["learning walks" "school reform"]. ["data-driven decision making" "school reform"]. You can also look at the E4A and the peer audit reports to see how this District uses the terms. I think you will see that Instructional Leadership means what Charlie fears about curriculum alignment and standardization. Why should we think MGJ means anything different when she uses this term?

I think it would help us to have a more constructive discussion of what are the pros and cons of CA and how to get this District to honor the benefits and minimize the negatives, if everyone who wants to work on a public action strategy would at least skim the first part of the BOTA letter. The BOTA letter should be our anti-standardization-reform BIBLE. I am going to send the BOTA link to all the directors and to the sup.

URL for BOTA letter: "http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12780&page=5

As for dan's comment about the rubber-stamping board, I concur that this is a fundamental problem. If the Board would enforce policy, and adopt policies that reflect the community's values, then the problems with the District promoting an unpopular agenda would be minimized. I think the BTA levy voters pledge that I have advocated for is a great opportunity to try to induce the Board to adopt strong-board policies. A terrific model for a strong, effective Board is the John Carver Policy Governance Model. It is emminently sensible and, if implemented with high fidelity, will give us a strong board.

I would also advocate for the voter's pledge to include demands that will severely curtail the District's ability to impose standardization. For example, we could demand that $31M budgetted in the BTA levy for assessment and technology related to high stakes testing be eliminated from the BTA levy, and the district must not spend money on this until such time as the Board gets community buy-in on the concept. (The BOTA letter establishes very clearly that high stakes testing is a bad bad idea.)

[The BTA levy contains $53M for opening buildings, $23 for seismic-related work; $43 for other essential spending; and $140M in spending that can be postponed or eliminated. This $140M includes $31M for spending related to high stakes testing. URL: http://www.seattleschools.org/area/board/09-10agendas/110409agenda/btalist.pdf]

Joan NE said...

I don't want the levy to fail. My expectation with a voter's pledge is that either I won't get enough signatures to have any impact, or else I will get enough that the Board will be compelled to address the demands. In either case the levy will pass. The levy could fail in the second case- if the Board won't cooperate fully. To reduce the chance of this, the demands on the pledge need to be highly reasonable, highly justified, and highly relevant to the large concerns of the community, and voters should be ready to hold to their pledge.

Now if the levy fails (due to the Board not acceding to 100% of the demands) this is not the end of the world is it? The Board could put up a new levy for vote in one year, right? Could they do it even sooner than that? If so, this will help voters who have signed the pledge feel more comfortable about holding to their pledge. If the Board insists that they can't revise the levy now, we ignore them, express disbelief, whatever, but don't back down. I think it would help to notify the Board in advance of going public with the pledge as to what we are planning, so they have an opportunity to negotiate with us.

I can set up a wiki site where people who want to help me write the demands can work together. Anybody want to help? I hope to have the pledge finalized by next Friday. Then it can be circulated at the Dec 9 Board Meeting when the Board is voting on a bonus for the Sup (I plan to carry in a protest sign against this. - please consider doing the same, then the t.v. cameras, if they are there, might capture the signs for the evening news).

Joan NE said...

Dan - we could demand that the Board put money in the Levy either to let every school choose their on math curriculum, or else to adopt the curriculum that was selected by the math adoption committees, as long as the recommendations are well-aligned with the state's new math standards - which in my opinion represent a vast improvement over the old standards.

Personally, I favor curriculum alignment in math - how about you, Dan?

That Ron Dorn wants to not test students on arithmetic fact fluency troubles me alot, since the most recent NRC reports on math education stress this as an important component of a good math curriculum. Do you have an opinion on this Dan?

Joan NE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle citizen said...

I happened to watch a broadcast of the Washington State School Directors Association meeting that occured Nov 18-21 in Seattle.

The speaker I saw was Yong Zhao, a professor at Michigan State who studies eductation, globalization, technology...

Here's his note slides:

He said (to the best of my recall):
The current national "reform" movement (standardization and "accountability" through standardization) was misguided and dangerous to our economy and to our children.
His reasons:
1)The US pruports to want to play catch up to some nations that might be ahead of us in Math and Science. These nations, such as Japan, Korea and China, are actually moving away from standards'based ed and towards "creativity." It is a mistake for us to try and match other countries (particularly when they are, in fact moving away from standards due to thier limiting effect) because we can't compete with them anyway: If we produce engineers, the engineers in India, et al, will still come cheaper, so we can't compete. It is a msitake to produce the same sort of students other countries are producing because they will undercut us anyway.
So other countries have seen this fallacy, and are busy bridging the "achievement gap" of creativity" We use to have creativity, they didn't, they're moving towards it and we're moving away.

2) "acheivement gap": People are all wildly different, and to group children and thus attribue gaps is limiting - it narrows response and does a dis-service to the various skills children have.

3) we need to be fostering critical thinking and entreprenaurial action: The global economy will increasingly reward "niche" business, business that meets various small needs, rather than the large corporations that, increasingly, will outsource anyway (see above) (so why are we listening to MS and other large corporatikons? Don't they want to limit small competitors? Didn't MS squash competition?)

4) standards narrow and make into icons a very limited set of knowledge; they place the state seal of "approval" on very basic and limited education. They do not reward critical thinking, creativity, and the diverse nature of human minds.
4a) education is so much broader than just these basic standards: We want citizens, we want compassionate people, it's not just Read/Write/Math/Science, yet this is all that's valued in these standards.

He thinks a school that, at graduation, has made "passionate, curious and adventurous citizens" has done a good job. A school that has made innumerable copies of basic modes of understanding and thinking has created a dysfuntional society.

He was quite adamant that the country was going down the wrong path.

It seems to me that he was extolling the virtues of what we already have in many of our schools, both traditional and alternative, and that to erase these things and chase these basic standards (and their accompanying "accountability") would be a grave mistake

dan dempsey said...

Dear Joan NE,

What Randy Dorn wants and what his math staff do may not be the same. I really don't know.

T.Bergeson put a tremendous math nonsense infrastructure in place. She spent 30 million training the teachers about the new math standards. That training had the OSPI math slant. The same slant that Ms. Greta Bornemann and crew used in spending big money to get more teachers on board with writing the dilution of the testing of the math standards.

WaToTom is an organization (Washington Teachers of Teachers of Mathematics) that are largely University Teachers and their sympathizers that are dedicated to the reform math agenda. Statistics that show their philosophically failing agenda has NO impact on any of these members. It is always just some more fine tuning and all will be well. Their wonderfully correct plans have just not been properly implemented by the school districts.

HERE is the WaToToM home page

dan dempsey said...

Dear Joan NE,

Here from 2007 (Newsletter #137) is the WaToToM take on the "IMP" program that turned into a complete disaster at Cleveland H.S.

When in place for two full years at Cleveland the WASL math pass rates were at 12% and then went up to 22% at year three.

The description:
"The morning session was about a project now underway at Garfield High School in Seattle. Actually, it's a composition of so many different projects that I can't possibly do it justice. One of them is a branch of the national PCMI (Park City Math Institute) that Jim King has helped develop for eons. That part involves getting a team of teachers at a high school to agree to work together toward some specified goal. Another major part is that Lani Horn in the College of Education has been taking her secondary math methods students to observe and discuss the classes in question, and they are feeling far better connected to their future world. There are other bits, too, involving a video club (videotapes of each other teaching -- not the film of the week!) and... I've lost track. Lani and Jim are very creative, especially as a team! In any case, the teachers who came to WaToToM were invited on the basis of the first bit: Garfield teachers opted to use the support given them to revamp the courses for students coming in unready for high school mathematics. There had been two courses, a slow one and another going half that fast, and the pass rates were abysmal -- an unpleasant state for the teachers and students alike. The teachers' first decision was to eliminate the half-speed class altogether, with it's self-fulfilling message of "We really don't think you can do this." They then opted to get training in the Interactive Math Project -- one of the NSF curricula -- and use it. Results so far are spectacular (???? annecdotes = success; but no success when performance is statistically measured on a test of mathematical ability) -- students involved and participating and working on standard deviation at the point in the year where a year before they would have been cringing before a computation that had already defeated them. Furthermore, the pass rate doubled, ( we are talking class passing rate .. NOT an objectively measured outside test of ability) and highly preliminary evidence indicates that they are doing well in the courses into which they were passed. We await with baited breath the result of their WASL tests. So IMP was what I thought would be the major feature of what the two teachers (both named Karen--K. Gunn and K.O'Connell) talked about. As it turned out, they had a different focus, to the fascination of all concerned: Another thing that Lani has brought into the project is the use of Complex Instruction, which can be thought of as the Cadillac of group work. It has a very specific structure, and goes after academic progress by way of a social objective of eliminating the issues of status that lock students into one particular way of functioning and prevent many from achieving what they are capable of. That one kicked up a lot of really good conversation.'

It appears this organization is more about social engineering than Math success.

Here is the full newsletter #137 from 2007.

Note since the SPS is incapable of fixing math .. the Board punted and went for turning Cleveland into a STEM school that remains largely a mystery ... except "Discovering" will be used for math and project based learning will cure all ills.

There is a huge installed base of folks dedicated to continuing a failing math philosophy of how children ought to learn math. These folks are not effected by the fact that most kids are NOT learning math the way WaToToM thinks they should.

And of course the School Board buys this Math Crap ... over and over again.

SPSMom said...

"Nobody on this blog has yet been able to answer this question"

I can, it's because the New School is a pilot charter whose success will be used to push through charter schools.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't think SouthShore, as The New School is now known, really has any more autonomy than other schools with regard to math texts (and pedagogy) or anything else. I think any other school could do what SouthShore does; provided, of course, that they had the funding that SouthShore has.

Actually, I think that's the point of SouthShore - to show what could be done with that level of funding.

Please let us all know if SouthShore has a non-standard core curriculum or materials.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I agree with Charlie; South Shore is not a charter. It was created to show the Legislature what can be done if education is funded. That's great but that's not getting funding for any other schools. They have some limited autonomy (including a vote on the principal by the New School Foundation) but not a lot.

Joan NE said...

According to its website, New School uses EDM, Writer's Workshop, and District Science kits.

I doubt New School is using EDM in KG, however. (I will check directly with the school about this) The school uses the High/Scope comprehensive curriculum in pre-K/KG. High/Scope already has a comprehensive pre-K/KG math curriculum (see http://www.seattleschools.org/schools/southshore/preschool.htm) so it would be redundant to use EDM in KG.

Here is the evidence that I have seen that New School is getting preferential treatment from the District:

1. "In 2004, South Lake high school will have to move out of its current home at the South Shore school building. The small alternative [re-entry] school will be making way for the New School, a public K-8 school that will be mainly privately funded. Beverly Goodman, parent of a South Lake student, took issue with the District's one-sided decision-making process. "We were told that ... that it was useless for us as a community to try and reverse the decision to place a corporate-funded school in that location," she said at the rally....She added, "Who is in charge of our public education--private enterprise, or us, the community? As students and parents at South Lake we are not asking, we are demanding, that our school remain in this current location once that building has been renovated."
source: http://archive.seattlepressonline.com/article-9723.html

2. This might be considered preferential treatment: NewSchool was given a beautiful, brand new building - doors opened Sept 2009.

3. Visit the New School Foundation website. You will see that they have a pre-K/K curriculum called High/Scope. If you go to the High/Scope website, you will see that it is a progressive curriculum that emphasizes students and teachers partnering, is hands-on, engaging, and has a strong social skills/emotional growth component. The High/Scope philosophy permeates the entire preK-8 program. For the whole preK-8 program, the NewSchool has an overarching theme that links the math/science/social studies/reading/arts subject areas. I contend that, particularly in this regard, New School qualifies as an alternative school. The Superintendent's appreciation for progressive curriculum is evidenced by her decision to send her daughter to the pre-K program at this school. That this progressive school enjoys the support of the District strikes me as preferential treatment, since the District has otherwise shown disdain for alternative schools - which typically are progressive - in a number of ways, not least of which is that the District refuses to use the term "alternative" any longer.

4. Allowing NewSchool to use a differnt math curriculum in KG could appear to be preferential treatment, especially in light of the fact that the District would not let Thornton Creek use a different math curriculum that the parents were willing to pay for, even though District Policy says that Alternative Schools (such as is Thornton Creek) is supposed to be able to choose its own curriculum, and even though TC has such a low student turnover rate that the problem of mobile students needing to have same math curriculum wherever they go is not an issue for this school.

5. I read (don't remember where) that the District bumped New School up to the top of the list on some building fund, or something, from 10th place, I think. I most probably am mis-remembering this. Does any one know the facts?

Some might consider this preferential support from the City: "The city of Seattle has awarded "Step Ahead" grants to South Shore School, as part of the Families and Education Levy. This grant provides partial support for 17 Pre-K seats." Of the 21 community non-profit orgs that got Step ahead grants in 2008-2009, seven of these are co-housed with but are independent of an SPS elementary school. None of the grants - other than that awarded to the New School - go to pay for seats for public school students.

Joan NE said...


I found this on the New School Foundation website: "The Seattle School District’s Chief Academic Officer participates in an annual review of the New School and can cancel the partnership at any time if the school’s performance or the relationship with the foundation is unacceptable." Source: http://www.newschoolfoundation.org/faqs.html#05 see "Accountability".

Anyone who is concerned about this preferential treatment might want to find out when the annual review occurs and weigh in.

Joan NE said...

IMHO, it is reasonable to call New School a psuedo-charter school.

I view New School as a charter-school demonstration project. The purpose of charter-demonstration projects is to engender public support for charter schools. (MGJ's program to make SPS uniformly mediocre will also help to engender public support for charters.)

In what ways is New School like a charter school?

1. Charter schools typically admit by lottery. New School is one of the few schools that has an open lottery.

2. At most charter schools, a high proportion of students qualify for FRL (free-and-reduced price lunch), which means that the student brings in Title-I funding.
In 2008-2009, 42% of NS students qualified for FRL.

3. Most charter schools have high enough proportion of FRL students to allow the school to use the Title I funds for whole schools programs. New School just meets the federal threshold of 40% FRL students. Below this threshold, the title I funds have to be individually directed to the FRL qualifying students. My limited research indicates that per pupil Title I funding can be as much as $3000. I don't know what it is in this district.

4. IT is well known that the biggest obstacle to new charter school start-ups -apart from a state either not allowing charter schools altogether or having a low cap on numbers of charter schools - is the cost of a facility. The New School was initially placed within the South Lake high school building (against the school's wishes), and was then given a BRAND NEW BEAUTIFUL facitly. Why did this new start up school get a new bldg ahead of established south-end schools in bldgs of poor condition?

5. Charter School Demonstration Projects typically enjoy significant foundation support. The foundation support is necessary to pay for the rich, progressive curriculum that these demonstration projects typically have. Charter schools that are designed to make money or to get extraordinary salaries for the executives (usually staff do not get extraordinary salaries at these schools) do not get foundation support, and they have high proportion of students that qualify for Title I. The New School qualifies as a demonstration project: It is It gets significant support from the New School Foundation. The NSF support is currently at $1.3M/yr, which amounts to 41% of the school's 3.2M budget for 2008-2009. This school also recieved significant Title I support, as 40% of the students in 2008-2009 qualified for FRL. NSF funnels money to the New School PK-8 program and currently to no other schools; it used to support TTMinor, but withdrew that support a couple years ago. The vison of the NSF is "to create proven models for schools that ensure the academic, social, emotional and physical success of each student, are supported by private and public funding and an active community of parents, staff and educators, [and] are designed to be replicated." Stuart Sloan started the NSF. Sources: a)http://www.newschoolfoundation.org/b)http://www.newschoolfoundation.org/faqs.html

BTW (not that it's at all relevant) he and his wife each contributed $10,000 to the successful 2007 campaigns of the members of the dominant clique on the board (Carr, Sundquist,Maier & Martin-Morris [DeBell was not up for re-election in 2007])

The Mastery Charter school in Philadelphia is a good example of a typical non-demonstration non-foundation-supported of charter school. See http://www.masterycharter.org/files/MasteryCharterSchoolOverview2009.doc

Joan NE said...

Dan - I am a bit confused by your comments on the math. Is not the CER at UW funded by reformist organizations? I seem to recall that they are. Does CER set the tone for the whole teacher's
certification program at UW?

Also, I am very interested to hear your thoughts on the specific questions I posed to you in particular.

Joan NE said...

HEre is the full link for the Mastery Charter School program:

Melissa Westbrook said...

Joan, with all due respect (and only because I have been keeping track for years), you have many "facts" on New School wrong. They were never in South Lake's building - they shared a building (a large one). I could go on but I won't. It's not a good idea to pick out bits and pieces to support an argument.

I still say South Shore has been given some preferential treatment in some areas but that doesn't make it a charter school.

Joan NE said...


It appears that you misread my comments. You would not have accused me of factual errors had you read them more carefully. Also, you would have understood that I never asserted that New School is a charter school.

I call New School a psuedo-charter school. "Psuedo" means "false".

You imply that I made many factual errors. It is most unfair to do this, unless you are willing to take the time to itemize my errors, and present the counterevidence.

You gave only one example of what you view as a factual error, and it is off the mark: I simply quoted a newspaper article [http://archive.seattlepressonline.com/article-9723.html], and I was careful to not take the quote out of context. If there is any factual error, then it is the newspaper's error, not mine. Even so, if the newspaper is wrong, then I would really appreciate if you would supply whatever correct information you have on this.

If you are going to accuse me of factual errors, then do me the courtesy of being specific, so that I can either rebutt the accusation or gracefully retract my assertion.

Finally, you say "It is not a good idea to pickout bits and pieces to support an argument."

You misunderstand my purpose. My purpose is to make the best case I can that

1) New School resembles alternative schools and

2) New School is getting preferential treatment

To make the strongest possible argument, I purposefully sought out EVERY bit and piece of evidence that supports my case. How would you make a case, if not this way?

To establish these two points is quite important for those of us who are fighting to save alternative schools.

Melissa - I am trained as a scientist, so I am used to having to present an argument (whether it be a rationale for a research proposal or a experimental analysis) with the strongest possible defense that I can come up with. And to be caught in failing to take into account relevant research, relevant facts, or in misquoting, misrepresenting, or misinterpreting relevant research and facts is extremely bad form for a scientist. I bring a scientific approach to the "research" I do in this arena.

Scientists also have to review others research manuscripts and proposal. This is called peer-review. A peer-reviewer cannot get away with making a dismissive,
blanket statement like this one: "Joan, with all due respect...you have many "facts" on New School wrong... I could go on but I won't."

With all due respect, Joan

Joan NE said...

Melissa, I didn't know that the New School Foundation got a vote on the New School principal. I will add that to my list of the ways New School resembles altrernative schools.

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adhoc said...
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