I attended the Cleveland STEM Community Meeting on December 4 with my wife and 8th grade daughter.
First, the important parts.
My daughter is excited about the program. To her it looks like a good mix of the academic challenge of Garfield with the more personalized instruction (and project-based learning) of NOVA. She got most excited when she saw a list of the possible classes in the Global Health Academy.
My wife and I are much more confident about the probability that the program will actually be there and that it will be something like what has been advertised.
There was a pretty good crowd of people there - I'd say about forty to fifty (not counting staff).
The folks from Cleveland who were there are excited about the program and have a very clear picture of the idea - the project-based learning, the integration of technology, the alignment between classes, the extended school day and accelerated schedule, etc.
The STEM program looks real and, to us, it looks good. They still have some things to work out. The schedule is inspired, but needs some tinkering. They haven't figured out how to get the student:computer ratio to the promised 1:1. They are still missing a lot of the curricular elements - they haven't found the puzzle pieces but they know what they have to look like.
A lot of the commitment and money is already there. Thanks to the Southeast Initiative, the teachers are all taking a stipend in exchange for the extended day and required professional development. So there shouldn't be any hold-outs among the teachers resisting the integrated curriculum or the project-based instruction.
Cleveland, because it will be focusing on some things, is going to have to let some other things go. The school will have arts and music, but it will not be a full blown arts program or music program. The CTE classes will probably all be within the context of the academy focus, so there will be a narrower range there as well. There will be world languages (because the school is committed to graduating each student with the entrance requirements for a four-year university), but don't expect a broad range of electives.
Here are the big differences that they are planning for Cleveland:
1. STEM focus. Every student now in the 9th grade there, and every student entering the school will be part of the STEM program. After the current 10th and 11th graders graduate the whole school will be STEM. The STEM program will be split into two academies: The School of Life Sciences and The School of Engineering and Design. Students choose one academy or the other upon entering the school. All students, as freshmen, will be required to take a survey course in both disciplines so they get a taste of the other side and possibly reconsider their choice of academy.
2. Project-based learning. They are really committed to the project-based learning thing. They saw examples of it and they were deeply impressed. Project-based learning will make the math classes more effective, will teach the students additional skills, and will facilitate differentiation within the classes.
3. Every student will graduate from Cleveland with the credits and classes needed to gain entry to a four-year university. They will all have at least four years of math through calculus (or further). They will all have four years of science including lab sciences. They will all have four years of language arts. They will all have at least two years of a world language. Yes, Cleveland's graduation requirements will be different from the graduation requirements of other Seattle public high schools. How will they be able to achieve this?
4. Extended and accelerated schedule. Cleveland's school day will run an hour longer than other Seattle public high schools. The plan is to have four 100-minute classes in lieu of the standard six 50-minute classes. Or, there could be three 100-minute classes and two 50-minute classes - it has not yet been worked out to the final detail. Since the classes are twice as long, students will be able to earn a whole year's worth of credit in one semester. A student entering any other Seattle high school and taking four years of the standard math courses would get Algebra in grade 9, Geometry in grade 10, Advanced Algebra in grade 11 and Pre-calculus in grade 12. They would not reach Calculus. Of course, a number of students take advanced classes in middle school so they arrive at high school ready to take Geometry or even Advanced Algebra. Then again, there are a lot of students who arrive at high school ill-prepared to take Algebra. At Cleveland, students who arrive without adequate math skills for Algebra will take Algebra in a 100-minute class for the first semester, completing the course in that time. In the second semester they will take a 100-minute course called Algebra Lab to more solidly establish their knowledge of the content. Then, in grade 10, they will take Geometry in a 100-minute class and complete the course in one semester. In the second semester of grade 10 they can take Advanced Algebra. In grades 11 and 12 they can take Pre-Calculus and Calculus and, if they wish, additional math classes. In this way, students who are not on pace to reach Calculus in grade 12 will be accelerated to that pace. Students who are on pace can either stay at pace or accelerate beyond.
5. The downside of the extended schedule. Typical freshmen entering Cleveland will not have a lot of choices to make with their schedule. For their first year they might have no room in their schedule for any classes but those that they are required to take. Their schedule might be a 100-minute block of Humanities (Language Arts and Social Studies) working at the normal pace in each of those disciplines, a 100-minute block of math (Algebra) completing a year of the class in one semester, a 100-minute block of science (Biology?) completing year of the class in one semester, and end with a 100-minute block of P.E.in the first quarter - completing a semester of work in one quarter, and and one of the survey classes in the second quarter. The second semester would look similar with Humanities, math, and science in three 100-minute blocks and a quarter of a survey class and a quarter of P.E. You will notice that there was no room in that schedule for electives. That freshman schedule is not final. There could be two 50-minute classes in there in place of one of those four 100-minute blocks. Students who arrive with advanced math preparation will have additional flexibility because they will only have to take a math block in one semester if they choose. Still, music isn't the sort of thing that you can take in the first and fourth quarter and not take in the second and third quarter. You really have to keep working at it all along. Because the school and the students are devoting so much time and resources to math and science classes that are elective at other schools, they will not have the time or resources for a full range of other potential electives. Even with an extra hour a day, there just isn't time.
The meeting itself was not well organized. It ran way over its stated time. After an introductory talk, we were split into groups for "discussion", but there was no discussion. It was not an opportunity for any real community engagement - more just Q and A. They weren't taking any meaningful input from the community. They actually seemed annoyed by questions and ill-prepared to answer them.
So. To wrap up. The program looks real - the STEM part is real, the project-based learning part is real, the ability to work with students of all levels of preparation is real. The people look committed. They have a lot of the elements in place. It looks like they will be able to complete the plan with plenty of time to spare. This does require some sacrifice - a longer school day, a commitment to take more classes and more advanced classes, and some compromise on the electives. For my daughter, who is interested in science, computers, art and French but not in music, who wants advanced classes but doesn't want to attend a factory school, who wants project-based learning but wants more structure than NOVA, it looks perfect. Also, it's right here in our neighborhood.
Here's something that I don't think people have considered. This STEM thing is going to totally change Cleveland. Right now, let's not kid ourselves, Cleveland is a school in deep trouble. The outcomes for Cleveland students are the worst in the district. Academic outcomes and behavior outcomes, without a doubt, are far and away the worst the district.
Cleveland average GPA: 2.59, lowest by far. District average: 2.95
Cleveland math WASL pass rate: 12.0%, lowest by FAR. District average: 55.9%
Cleveland reading WASL pass rate: 61.4%, lowest. District average: 83.8%
Cleveland writing WASL pass rate: 74.8%, lowest by far. District average: 88.8%
Cleveland science WASL pass rate: 6.9%, lowest. District average: 41.4%
Cleveland average SAT scores: lowest in all three categories
Cleveland annual dropouts: 12.1%, lowest by far. District average: 4.7%
Cleveland returning students: 59.1%, lowest. District average: 79.4%
Cleveland attendance: 74.0%, lowest. District average: 86.3%
Cleveland suspension rate: 29.2%, highest by far. District average 9.6%
Cleveland student survey response to "I feel safe at my school": 2.6, lowest. District average 3.0
All of a sudden, Cleveland is going to swap this under-achieving population for students who have intentionally chosen STEM, who have committed to a longer school day, who have committed to taking four years of math through at least calculus, and who have committed to four years of science. The demographics will be radically different. Right now, Cleveland is 53.3% African-American. There were only a few (non-staff) black faces at the community meeting, and they were nearly all African immigrants. Of course the population that has been attending Cleveland won't disappear. They will go to Rainier Beach or Franklin instead.