This is the most important and most urgent crisis in Seattle Public Schools.
This is also indicative of the deep flaws in the District.
This conversation is from the School Board meeting of 11/3/2010. It occurred during the discussion of an introduction item, the update and revision of some enrollment policies. The conversation begins with Director Smith-Blum expressing her concern about the inadequacies of the interventions available in our middle and high schools for students working far below grade level. I would encourage you to watch the video of the conversation from the start, but I offer here a transcript of it starting at 54:40 of Part 3 of the meeting:
Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Susan Enfield: Director Smith-Blum and I did have the opportunity to have a conversation about this and actually I think that many of the issues that Dr. Smith-Blum raises are legitimate, but I think that they’re really separate from this actual policy question that the Board is grappling with. I think with respect to students who come to us at any level of the system not at grade level it is our obligation as a school system to serve them in their assigned school. Director Smith-Blum is right in pointing out that we do not have the systematic intervention structures in place that we want to have. We’re moving in that direction and we will. It’s not where it is right now. And we do need to provide better supports to teachers so that when students do come in who are really struggling, that they have the tools, the time necessary, to meet their needs. I don’t know, and I haven’t found this out yet, I apologize, the feasibility of actually screening students when they come into the system. How that would work, whether we would have the capacity for it, etc. So that I just don’t have an answer for yet. But I think that the issue of making sure that our schools are equipped to meet the needs of the students who are struggling is a legitimate one. I’m just not sure that this policy – that a student assignment policy – is the one to address it. So it might be marrying two things that are somewhat separate. But I might be misinterpreting that.The key to this discussion lies in two clearly stated facts about Seattle Public Schools:
Director Kay Smith-Blum: But isn’t it correct that we do assess English Language Learners who are obviously English Language Learners at the point of enrollment?
CAO Enfield: In our S.B.O.C. [Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center], yes. Absolutely.
Dir. Smith-Blum: So if we created that system, why wouldn’t we be able to create a system for other students who are coming from outside our system?
CAO Enfield: I don’t know because I just don’t have the data for what that would require. I can’t say.
Board President Michael DeBell: So, we have a policy that was represented as more or less a cleaning up our policies. But I think we have an issue here that is looking for a home. And your assertion is that it may not be this policy.
CAO Enfield: I guess I’m – forgive me because I’m not incredibly familiar with the policy – I’m not sure it’s a policy issue. I think that it’s a fundamental job, core mission, issue of what we do as a school system. So I don’t think it’s a policy issue; it’s a practice issue for us. What are we doing to make sure that we’re serving the needs of students in all of our schools? And I don’t know if the superintendent would like to weigh in.
Pres. DeBell: Okay
Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson: I just want to add that it’s not an enrollment issue at all. It’s the core work of public education. And assessing every student and placing them according to ability sounds like tracking and discrimination and we’ve moved light years away from that unless I don’t understand what I’m hearing. So assessing students is a part of the teaching and learning cycle, and students come into public school system assigned to a grade level. And absolutely we serve students who may have special needs, through IEPs which are a very legal process in the same way we serve students who speak a second language. We also have an obligation to help close the gap and Susan spoke to this. That we need to take it to scale. It’s the same conversation that we had about college readiness and raising graduation requirements . The concrete example we saw - I think San Diego - was that parallel to that you have to put in supports for kids. So this is really an academic issue. It’s not at all an enrollment issue unless, of course, I’m not understanding the context.
CAO Enfield: I should offer, too, that when we look at a systemic solution we’ve talked about Response to Intervention or a multi-tiered system of support. And that’s what we’re working on developing right now and looking for some outside funding to create that really systematic mechanism to make sure that we’re identifying where kids are and what they need in order to grow. So, we’re actively working on that at every level of the system.
1) Providing struggling students with needed interventions is a fundamental job, a core mission, of what we should do as a school system. Both the CAO and the superintendent clearly and affirmatively stated this.
2) Seattle Public Schools doesn't do it. They have a plan for doing it, but rather than devoting any budget to the effort, they are seeking outside funding for it.
This is a core mission of the District, it is deadly critical work, but we're not going to do it unless we get outside funding to pay for it.
That is totally messed up.
Bizarrely, no member of the Board - other than Director Smith-Blum - heard this contradiction or appeared, in any way, to be concerned about it.