I'm on the committee. So is Melissa. So are Dr. Vaughan and Dr. Thompson. There are principals, central staff, teachers and community members. The committee is too big for any real discussion. It will be almost impossible for it to reach any authentic consensus. I suspect that staff will just write our conclusions for us and then allow us a final meeting to argue for small edits - which they will unilaterally decide to accept or reject. That's how the Demographic Task Force worked.
The committee met once in November and will meet again in December. By that time we will already be overdue with our recommendation to FACMAC on the placement of elementary north-end APP. FACMAC needs it now. Without it, they will just move forward with their decisions without input from the Advanced Learning Committee.
A couple people from FACMAC are on the AL committee also, but they had a FACMAC event scheduled at the same time as the AL meeting, so they were in and out. There was supposed to be a professional facilitator for the committee, but she didn't show up.
The real purpose of the committee is unclear. We can't tell if our charge is narrow (recommend a location - or locations - for north-end elementary APP) or if it is broad (set a Vision for Advanced Learning and make an implementation plan to realize it).
So, yeah. It's kind of a mess.
There are a number of well-known and longstanding problems with the Advanced Learning programs.
There was some talk about how Spectrum - in a lot of schools - is indistinguishable from an ALO. The schools say that they cannot create Spectrum classes for all of the Spectrum-eligible students. The numbers don't work out right because the students do not come in sets of 30. So they can either put kids on a waitlist - a waitlist that never moves - or they can break the self-contained delivery model for more flexible arrangements that will accommodate different sized cohorts. The flexible models may have validity in theory, but the implementation sometimes doesn't match the theory. The solution, of course, is for the District to assure the quality and efficacy of the school programs. They refuse to play that role.
We all know that there are capacity conflicts when the District wants to guarantee access to a building to two different groups. How can all of the APP students get into the school where they are guaranteed seats when it is filled by neighborhood students who are also guaranteed seats? This has already happened at Garfield and Lowell and it will soon happen at Thurgood Marshall, Hamilton, and Washington. The story with Spectrum isn't much different.
Again, the solution is obvious. The AL programs should be in schools without neighborhood reference areas as Lowell used to be. Either the programs are not co-housed with any other programs or, better, they are co-housed with option programs. The option programs, by the way, don't have to be alternative in any way. They don't have to be language immersion or Montessori or exploratory learning or anything like that. They can just be option schools for enrollment purposes. This, of course, would require a serious revision to the attendance area map. It is, therefore, out of the question. Why ask for a solution and then not allow the only one that will work?
Finally, there aren't that many buildings north of the Ship Canal that can be used to house north-end elementary APP. The only spaces are Cedar Park, Wilson-Pacific, Lincoln, and John Marshall. After you realize that Wilson-Pacific will be needed as an attendance area middle school, and Lincoln will be needed as an interim site, that only leaves Cedar Park and John Marshall. Cedar Park is small and in the extreme northeast corner of the district. The answer is obvious: it's going to be John Marshall. Do we really need to discuss this?
The best conversation came AFTER the meeting. I was chatting with some folks about what Advanced Learning should be. Was it supposed to be for talented students, for high performing students, or for motivated students? Right now it is only for students who are both talented (high CogAT scores) and high performing (high MAP scores) in both Reading and Math - that's true for APP and Spectrum. That's a pretty narrow group. Even still, they are not served particularly well.
Here's an idea. What if APP were for talented students (high CogAT scores) regardless of their current level of achievement? Would that make it more diverse? How would we serve those students to accommodate their needs? Could it even be done around our Standards and GLEs? Is there any reason that it should? And what if Spectrum were for high performing students (high MAP or MSP scores) with no CogAT score requirements? Then every student who could do the work would have the opportunity to do the work. Whether due to hard work or talent, outcomes are what would a student into the program. And what if ALOs were for highly motivated students without any eligibility testing of any kind? Pure self-selection. Any student who would accept the challenge could get the challenge, even if they were not already working beyond grade level. Heck, even if they were working below grade level. This would make the three programs different from each other instead of having APP with two echoes.
I know that if achievement alone determined eligibility to Spectrum, there would be some schools where about half of the kids would be Spectrum-eligible. And how is that bad? There are about 28,000 students in the district in grades 1-8. Of those, about 6,500 (23%) have reading and math scores above the 87th percentile nationally. Think about that - 23% of our grade school kids are in the top 13% for reading and math. That's a pretty steep over-representation. I would think this would be a point of pride for the city and the district, but they are, as usual, ashamed of their high performing students.
Even if the bar were set higher - 95th percentile in reading and math - we still have about 3,500 students - over 12% - in the top 5% for achievement. That's phenomenal.
What do you all think?