Monday, October 21, 2013

The Board is Afraid of Advanced Learning

Have you noticed that just about any time Melissa or I write something about APP or Spectrum or advanced learning in almost any way two things happen: the thread gets about a hundred comments and the comments get nasty.

Have you noticed that school board candidates - like all other politicians - prefer to speak in vague platitudes and evade any discussion of specifics? It's a funny thing, but in their pursuit of a decision-making job they appear incapable of making any decisions at all. That's because having positions on any issue will alienate the people who have the opposing view. To prevent alienating anyone, they don't espouse any position at all. Sure they will assert their strong stance in support of motherhood, the flag, and apple pie, but the more contentious and heated the issue, the less likely they will take a stand on it.

So we shouldn't be surprised that the School Board would prefer not to take a position on advanced learning which, according to the evidence presented by this blog, is the most heated and most contentious of all district issues.

We shouldn't be surprised that they don't want to express a view on advanced learning but that's their job. The time to weasel is when they are candidates, not when they have been elected to govern.



On January 29, 2009, the School Board suspended the Policy D14.00, the Highly Capable Students Program policy. On that day the Board voted to direct the superintendent and the staff to review the policy and recommend revisions. The superintendent refused to do so, which, by itself, was grounds for dismissal.

That was nearly five years ago. There has been no advanced learning policy for all of that time. The failure of subsequent superintendents to recommend policy revisions has been grounds for dismissal for them also, but most of the blame lies with the Board, which never followed up on their direction to staff to recommend policy changes. The Board has also failed to take any action of their own to write a replacement policy.

During the five years that we have been without any policy on advanced learning all of the advanced learning programs have gone un-managed. This absence of management was revealed during the Board’s work session to oversee the management of Teaching and Learning. There has been no measure of the quality or efficacy of any of the advanced learning programs - as required by policy. There was no measure of their quality or efficacy this past year either. Spectrum, in its un-managed state, has spiraled into chaos. ALOs were always in chaos - typically existing in name only. The chaos of these programs and the absence of reliable support for students working beyond standards in general education classrooms has created a stampede into APP, bloating the program and distorting capacity management. APP has been no haven. Commitments made to APP students and families at the time the program was split were all broken. The APP Review performed by national experts from the University of Virginia has been utterly ignored - the recommendations neglected when not explicitly violated. All of the advanced learning programs have suffered greatly from the absence of any governing policy. Advanced learning stands as an abject failure of governance.

Now, while there is no program manager for advanced learning, critical decisions are being made about all of the advanced learning programs. The superintendent is making decisions about changes in the student identification procedure, the delivery method, even the very programs themselves. He is very likely to decide to disband Spectrum completely. Decisions are being made about program placement and capacity management. The allocation of feeder elementary schools for the middle schools has been driven by presumptions about APP - presumptions that may be proven false before the new school boundaries are even enacted.

The District is in desperate need of policy leadership from the Board on advanced learning, but the Board is refusing to do its duty and provide that policy leadership. It is the Board’s job to set policy and the superintendent’s job to implement that policy. It has to happen in that order. But the Board has abdicated its responsibility to set policy in advanced learning and the superintendent, who cannot wait for the Board to fulfill its duty, is stepping forward to make his own policy and implement it. This is not the healthy function that the District leadership claims to strive for.

The decisions about why we need advanced learning programs and what type of students they should serve are policy decisions. They should be made by the Board. Then the superintendent can implement that policy by determining how the students should be identified and how the services should be delivered. But the Board has refused to do its job. Not failed - refused. The Board has had five years to write a policy and numerous reminders that the policy is needed. The only explanation for the continued absence of a policy is the conscious choice by the Board not to write one.

How can we convince them to do their job? What will it take to get them to write a policy for advanced learning? They need to make a statement about why we need these programs and services and clearly state the types of students who need them. Are these services needed by students with high cognitive ability? Are they needed by high performing students? Are they needed by students with high cognitive ability and high achievement? Are they needed by every student? Should the growth of these programs be encouraged or discouraged? Only after these decisions - which are policy decisions - are made can the superintendent do his job and implement that policy.

If this Board wants to focus on policy and governance instead of administration and management, the first step is for the Board to focus on policy and governance. I have yet to see that. Five years is too long to wait for a policy revision.

69 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is there a political cost in maintaining the status quo?

If not then you have your answer....

--NEObserver

David said...

Great post, Charlie, and very accurate. The demise of Spectrum is particularly damaging.

Broadening this beyond advanced learning, you would think the Board would see its primary purpose to be oversight, which almost certainly should take the form of making sure District administration management is conforming to policy and carefully auditing the District's budget.

But the Board doesn't do that, which makes me wonder what they think their primary purpose is.

lsaario said...

Well stated!

And I agree with NE Observer...

Sue Peters, I believe has kid(s) at Lincoln and is an APP mom for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

Sue Peters is very familiar with APP and yes, both her children are in the program. Not everyone who fought the closures and advocated for APP alongside Sue *loves* her; she has an abrasive personality and does not suffer fools lightly. But she is smart and principled, and haven't we had enough of those who aren't?
Another Pushy Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, and that the state law around AL has been strengthened (and thanks to readers here I found that out) and yet our programs are fairly confusing and weak, should tell you something.

I'm sure some will write that the Board and the Superintendent have more important things to do. That may be somewhat true given that the operations of the district are somewhat lacking.

But Advanced Learning students - like Special Ed - are a legally recognized group that the district has obligations to serve. That it hasn't done well by either group says a lot.

I had written to Shauna Heath about this issue. (I am rapidly thinking she and Michael Tolley are the "bad cops" to Superintendent Banda's "good cop".)

I had written to Ms Heath with some complaints and she wrote back. She said somethings that did annoy me so again, I wrote her back.

She tried to me that:

- our taskforce was "completed" in 2012. It was but it wasn't. Dr. Vaughn stood in front of the committee in May 2012 and asked anyone would stay on into the fall and continue the work since we didn't get much done in the way of Spectrum and ALOs. Many of us raised our hands. He then never contacted us again (despite several of us contacting him). This has never been explained.

- She also said that we had "one defined topic" and then didn't say what she believed that to be. Our one defined topic was the ENTIRE AL program. Dr. Enfield came the first meeting and told us this. We have it in writing.

The reason I told Ms. Heath this is because I'm not standing around while someone rewrites history. If they want to put in their district archives one version, then I have this version at this blog (backed up by documents and other participants).

She also said the meetings might be closed for the newest taskforce to deal with "sensitive material." I would have to wonder what that might be as that never came up for our taskforce.

The most serious issue is, that if Vaughan (or any senior leadership) had followed thru last year, our taskforce (or any new one) could have been working on AL issues the entire 2012-2013 school year in advance of growth boundaries.

Instead, they are doing it backwards and I have no doubt the outcomes will not be as good or robust as they could be if this work had been done last year.

As I said to her, "it's the kind of thing that - later on when things don't line up properly - parents say, 'what was the district thinking?"

Anonymous said...

Is it time for a lawsuit? I hate to say it, and I don't know the standing, but nothing seems to get attention like a lawyer (even though it appears the District is mostly in the "paying" business instead of the "preventing" business).

- Law Suitable

Charlie Mas said...

It has been my observation that only three things get the District's attention.

Money. Either offer them a pot of new money (a la Gates) or threaten the flow of their current revenues (OSPI Special Education action). We don't have any and we can't threaten the money they are getting from the state. That option is off the table.

Litigation - or the threat of litigation. There is no damage and nothing actionable here. The Board cannot be sued for failing to follow or enforce their policies. They could be in violation of some laws, but the enforcement agencies have no interest in enforcing them.

Bad Press. This is it. This is the one and only arrow in the quiver. The press, however, needs a story. They need an acute crisis - the chronic decay of the programs and the District's continuing obstinance and indolence will not do. So what would make a story?

Test boycott.

The advanced learning community needs to opt out of all tests until such time as the District fulfills all outstanding commitments made to students and families. No MAP. No MSP. Students will continue to take the EOC and HSPE because those are needed to graduate, but no other tests. When the advanced learners refuse to take the tests they will get the attention of the press and the District - and not before.

ben said...

Its simply not realistic to think the AL community could opt out of the tests en masse. First of all, for the most part the parents are not as radicalized as you are Charlie and would never reach such a consensus. But more importantly, the district can very easily change the goalposts and require any test for continued eligibility in spectrum/APP etc.

Ben
Ben

Anonymous said...

For this blog and many of the commentators here, AL "is the most heated and contentious of all district issues." That's true. I started reading this blog when its focus was around school closures. The blog's focus and its readers have changed over the year as it should. Now I find most who comment here have children in AL. It's a terrific place for AL advocacy and discussion. Many parents volunteer a good deal of time researching and keeping fellow readers current with AL happenings. Of course with that being the main topic, you will find some detractors.

But I don't fault our board members over AL in particular. There are after all 47,000 other students to consider as well.

reader

Anonymous said...

It is true, Ben, that most AL parents aren't as aware of the issues or as radicalized as Charlie. However, could the District really kick any child out of AL who didn't take the test? If it was a mass protest, that would be an interesting conundrum for them, and a story in itself.

A starting point would be a Board campaign - letter-writing, petitions, testimony - from AL parents across the district. A starting point would be AL parents outside of APP talking to each other and to APP. (I don't even know if SNAPP and TGM APP parents talk...)

-Ruminating

Susan said...

What about Seattle Times? Seems like plenty of meat for a good article or series...

Susan said...

And why not big money? Why aren't more wealthy supporters in favor of supporting Excellent AL options for all students at all levels? Where could the put their money to make an impact full difference?

Anonymous said...

Susan, Seattle Times has with its latest FACMAC article highlighting north end APP needs quite sympathetically. To play devil's advocate, local philanthropists have given, but they chose to do so beyond the confine of Seattle APP/AL programs. The inception behind Aviation academy being one and was written up in the Seattle Times recently. Their efforts tend to go beyond one program and one school district. Same with their employees volunteer outreach/mentoring efforts.

reader

JennyM said...

There is a meeting of the APP Advisory Committee, consisting of both parents and school staff members, on Thursday, October 24th at 6:30 p.m. at Washington Middle School. This meeting is open to all parents of APP students, to discuss the topics mentioned above, and the current suggested changes to the AL program. This can be the start of addressing the concerns listed in Charlie's post. Perhaps we will be heard this time.

Anonymous said...

Is there an advisory committee for Spectrum/ALO parents, too?

signed: ALO mom

Anonymous said...

If there was a test boycott, and the District suddenly mandated MAP or other testing to maintain qualification for AL, at least that might become the beginning of a policy for AL!

I think even a small(ish) number of parents boycotting testing and making a big(ish) noise about it might be an effective way to make a point.

- Law Suitable

Lynn said...

ALO mom,

No there isn't. You should ask Shauna Heath why there is not. Copy the board too.

Charlie Mas said...

There are no Spectrum or ALO advisory committees. None. There is only the APP Advisory Committee for APP only.

Nor is there a single advisory committee for all of advanced learning. That was the recommendation from the APP Review. The District said that they would implement that recommendation. That was five years ago. We're still waiting.

Lynn said...

I thought of another threat. Conversion charters at Lincoln and Thurgood Marshall. There is still time to file notice of intent.

Anonymous said...

There was an advanced learning task force with 1st meeting on Nov. 2011. Memberships include both bloggers here, Sue Allen spectrum rep from Lawton, TB Jarman, BF Day spectrum rep, Joshua Whited, spectrum rep for Lafayette, C. Webster, spectrum rep for Wedgewood, Mary Orth, ALO Woodland rep, and the other parent reps were APP (ES to HS), and district staff.

http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/advanced%20learning/tf_TaskForceMembership.pdf

http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/advanced%20learning/tf_TaskForceFrontPage.pdf

dejavu

Old Timer said...

It is not like the APP AC has been helpful to APP. They supported Goodloe-Johnson's disastrous splitting of APP and her attempts to close Lowell. The APP AC always saw their role to explain and justify the district's decisions to parents, not to communicate parent or student needs to the district, and the APP AC rejected the idea they should be advocating on behalf of APP. If you want a similar organization for Spectrum and ALO, you should be careful what you wish for.

Anonymous said...

By the way, should read the last entry, recommendations for superintendent for AL programs. It's about APP. Spectrum got a mention for co-housing with APP in MS. ALO ...crickets. Have a harder look at who were in the taskforce at all levels.

dejavu

Anonymous said...

http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/advanced%20learning/ALPTF/20120524/Recommendations%20for%20Superintendent%20from%20Advanced%20Learning%20Programs%20Task%20Force%5B1%5D.pdf

This file.

dejavu

Anonymous said...

I think there are two reasons why AL remains a radioactive topic:
1. Because too many in this district confuse equity with equality, and the overwhelming desire for the latter, bends and drives policy in counter-productive ways.
2. People fail to see that, as goes AL, so goes the rest of the district, and vice-versa. Instead, many are blinded by their perceptions of how much greener the grass appears to be for others in the district who "work the system" or exercise their "privileges" to extract more than their fair share from the system, at the expense of others with greater needs. The zero-sum game theory. Why serve those who we believe already have it made?

The district does nothing to explain the situation or dispel the myths and misperceptions, because that makes them look like they're coddling the most "well off" in the district while spurning the neediest.

It takes courage, sincerity, and frankly, eloquence to navigate the political minefields and properly serve all kids. I have yet to see someone who can do that in SPS, although John Stanford came closer than anyone before or since, in my lifetime.

WSDWG

Lynn said...

If, like dejavu, you were not reading this blog in June 2012, here are Melissa's comments on the district's mismanagement of the previous task force.

Anonymous said...

WA Charters can not have entry requirements such as for APP and Spectrum. It's not allowed under the law. You could have a charter school with a special academic focus, but you can't admit based on ability/IQ.

parent

Anonymous said...

Old Timer: I have to disagree with you on the APP AC. Historical documents revealed that the APP splits had been on the table for years before they occurred. We can certainly complain about the lies and phony reasons for the splits, but growth ultimately drove them. The APP AC did the best they could with a crappy hand of cards.

Then, two years later, when Garfield was seriously overcrowded, it was the APP AC and Bob Vaughan that headed off the push to toss APP out of Garfield and back to neighborhood schools by convincing the district to let us create our own relief valve in the form of the IBX at Ingraham. I'm glad we had the APP AC then, or the program would be in much worse shape now.

I think it's fair to disagree with certain positions of the APP AC, but to dismiss them outright or unfairly malign them does not, in my mind, do justice to their work or results over the years.

WSDWG

Anonymous said...

Lynn, perhaps you should read Melissa's comments more thoroughly about spectrum and ALO. Look at the AL task force make up and recommendations. The recommendations dovetail nicely with FACMAC. You get what you get. This is good for APP.

As for the board, like you suggest Lynn, you can go for conversion charters for real (with such organizational power) or as a pressure tactic. Looking at the candidates, APP got both side covered. Smart and also good for APP. Our previously spectrum child, now APP will continue on, because even splintered, there will still be a pathway program. Spectrum or ALO?

dejavu

Anonymous said...

APP Charters? Seriously? Wope! Their goes gravity

Back away from the ledge, people. "We'll show them" is a great way to feed perceptions that we only care about ourselves!

Instead, beware "watch this" - many a dare-devil's last words.

WSDWG

Lynn said...

parent,

Yes, as Melissa commented yesterday Lynn, that's a good question but I think how most charters get around that is by explaining the level they will be teaching at and then, when students can't keep up, they "counsel" them out.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Parent, there is a letter of intent filed for just such a charter because charter applicants who serve kids who are at-risk and advanced learners can get special preference.

So yes, you can have a school for those kids. What you'd have to do on the application is ask if there is any testing to show the child is an advanced learner (just for administrative, NOT for admission purposes) AND tell all other applicants without any testing that the level of rigor will be high and that they must be able to keep up.

The school, having made its focus/mission clear, would be able to exit/counsel out any students who could not keep up.

Charlie Mas said...

I'm trying to imagine the school that intends to support at-risk students and exits them when they are no longer "at-risk".

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, they wouldn't exiting them for not being "at-risk" - they would be exiting them for not keeping up.

Of course it all sounds like peculiar nonsense but it's a good smokescreen to start a school for gifted children.

Anonymous said...

Melissa,
Gaming the charter system in the way you suggest above really doesn't make APP look good. "A good smokescreen to start a school for gift children ." Really? What a waste.

RR

Lynn said...

RR,

A letter of intent to convert to a charter was filed by a Spokane private school that serves highly capable students. This is a discussion of how that would be possible. No one is planning one here in Seattle.

seattle citizen said...

Lynn, your earlier comment at 12:40 floats the idea of a letter of intent to convert to charter as a potential lever to move the district. No one is planning this here now, true, and that's probably for the best. AOL wouldn't be helped by such a demonstration of willingness to go it alone and separate from the district, even if no one wanted to carry the threat to fruition: how would the public know it was merely a threat? It would be seen as an actual desire on the part of the AOL and/or APP community.

Anonymous said...

Yes, those of you who up until now were against charter schools, by all means take tax payer money and start a school for gifted children. Or create a "smoke screen" to threaten the district. Or sue them. As long as you are doing it in the name of gifted children, anything is OK. Who cares about the rest of the kids in Seattle?

Gen Ed Mom

Lynn said...

seattle citizen,

See Charlie's post at 10:31. There have always been just three ways to get the district's attention. I pointed out that now there is one more. I don't plan to file a letter of intent, sue the district, organize a test boycott, take away district money or give them money. I am not comfortable with the uncertainty we are all dealing with and thoroughly unimpressed with the advanced learning department's ability to plan ahead. Would I like them to feel the urgency we all feel about these issues? Maybe. Wouldn't you?

Melissa Westbrook said...

RR, you miss my point (and in case you missed it - I'm against charter schools).

No one in APP is doing any of the things we are suggesting. Charlie and I are thinking out loud. Don't attribute our thoughts to APP.

I'm also pointing out how easy it would be for any group to game the charter law. It's easy to claim you are "serving" any group.

Gen Ed Mom, could you give it a rest?

Melissa Westbrook said...

RR, you miss my point (and in case you missed it - I'm against charter schools).

No one in APP is doing any of the things we are suggesting. Charlie and I are thinking out loud. Don't attribute our thoughts to APP.

I'm also pointing out how easy it would be for any group to game the charter law. It's easy to claim you are "serving" any group.

Gen Ed Mom, could you give it a rest?

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher in a high-poverty SPS school. My very bright children come in without early childhood ed, and for more than a few, without having eaten since the previous day's school lunch. I deeply wish we as a system could spend as much adult (e.g. Board and, of course, this blog) energy on the issues far to many of our children face. Personally and pedagogically, I believe that advanced learning best serves students middle school age or older who arrive into the echelon because of the commitment to advanced coursework, not because of expensive (and biased) testing. I have administered standardized IQ / achievement tests and found them drastically lacking; in fact, seeing decisions based on these tests is akin to seeing diagnoses based upon moon signs, in my whole-child opinion. I am not going to "win" any arguments on this blog and I'm not going to engage in any back and forth-- I'll be up at 5 with lesson plans in order to catch students up so they can access the same programs many middle-class parents assume is a birthright. I'd merely like to offer support for one strand of one of Charlie's previous suggestions, a self-chosen APP track, middle/high only. I'd really like to see other, more interesting conversations on this blog, like e.g., where / what school that is not your own child's might you like to learn about and volunteer in?

And before I am dismissed with any appellation of "against APP" please know that all my own children have been in / are in SPS APP. And I still want it to drastically open / change / adapt.

Teach38

Anonymous said...

Hi Teach38,
How would a would-be volunteer know which school would welcome him/her assuming it is not their child/grandchild's school? I have often thought of this need also, but think there are some barriers in place.
Thanks!
NEMom

Anonymous said...

Teach38, I know this is off topic, but I'd love to suggest having a conversation about pooling PTA money district wide to try and address some of these issues
--monkeypuzzled

Melissa Westbrook said...

NE Mom, I'll put up a couple of links for that.

We have talked about pooling PTA money; good luck with that. I think it would be great but it gets very little traction here.

That said, what about the Alliance? DFER? Poverty doesn't seem to be on their radar.

Anonymous said...

WAC 392-170-010 Purpose.

The purpose of this chapter is to establish policies and procedures for administration of programs for the education of K-12 students who are highly capable.

WAC 392-170-005 Authority

The authority for this chapter is RCW 28A.150.290, 28A.185.030, and 28A.185.050, which authorize the superintendent of public instruction to adopt rules and regulations for the administration of a program for highly capable students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, including the nomination, assessment, and selection of such students.

Thank goodness the WAC includes K and up.

HM

Anonymous said...

@ NE mom
Try united way KC volunteer site. They have a volunteer program for preschool readers. Click on their volunteer site, put in tutoring and voila, you will have more opportunities than time! Earlier in the fall, they were looking for math volunteers in Seattle schools. Some of the tutoring are through non profits, I.e. Catholic services, others through SPS, and local community or SHA centers. Just tons of needs everywhere from preK to HS age.

Try also our Seattle public library. They have an after school tutoring program at certain branches all over Seattle.

Require a little training and serious commitment. From personal experience, I can tell you the little good you give will come back to you in spades.

dejavu

Lynn said...

Teach38,

Do you mean that you've administered something like the CogAT or have you administered actual IQ tests? Hasn't every teacher in Seattle Public Schools administered standardized achievement tests? I guess I'm trying to figure out what kind of professional training in the education and/or identification of gifted children has informed your opinions.

If I can ask one more question, why did you choose to test your children for and enroll them in APP?

If you want to start a discussion on how parent volunteers can get involved in schools they are not familiar with, I bet Melissa or Charlie would be happy to create a post for that.

commenter said...

AL services shouldn't be based on personal beliefs or anecdotes about gifted education. That is how Spectrum has been slowly dismantled. Hopefully the committees are balanced by those that look to professionals in the field of gifted education. Serving highly capable students does not prevent Teach38 from doing her job, and eliminating gifted education would not make her job any easier.

If students were to self select for advanced coursework beginning in middle school (which they can do for math), there would still need to be entrance requirements and exit requirements. Whether it be grades (which can be even more biased than standardized testing) or another measure, you want some measure that will ensure a level of success for those students should they choose a more advanced class.

How to help support students to get them up to standard is a different conversation. As others have repeatedly said, better content and curriculum across the grades would go a long way in serving all students.

Lynn said...

Why is early identification of gifted children most important for economically disadvantaged children?

One of the most misguided notions in education is that high IQ scores in young children are simply an artifact of a good environment, that they can be artificially inflated by parents' reading to children or by the children attending a good preschool. Intelligence is certainly a combination of heredity and environment, but who has more environmental opportunities: the 4 year old or the 9 year old? Therefore, which score is likely to be the most influenced by a good environment? The impact of the environment on IQ increases with age; therefore, the scores of third graders are unquestionably more influenced by the environment than the scores of kindergarteners.

Source

Anonymous said...

"Why is early identification of gifted children most important for economically disadvantaged children?
"


Of course a big issue is that even identifying highly-capable children in a poor, non-supportive homelife situation still disadvantages the child. Especially compared to the Lake Woebegone kids of NE Seattle (everyone is highly capable ).

Louisiana actually has a residence program at the high school level for highly capable students from poor areas.

--SPSweary

Charlie Mas said...

So, to bring this discussion back to where we started, the Board has refused to move forward with an advanced learning policy because:

1) The Board is not interested in policy and governance.

2) The Board Directors are, at heart, politicians who do not want to make any potentially contentious decisions.

3) The Board regards all of advanced learning as a swirling, sucking vortex of anger, accusations, and elitism. It is a no-win situation in which any statement or decision will alienate a large number of people.

4) The Board doesn't support advanced learning in any form and wish it would just go away.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to understand why parents feel so strongly that there is a need for APP (or even Spectrum) for Middle School and High School. As far as I understand (and I was educated in a foreign school system), there are classes offered at different levels as well as honor classes and AP classes. Running Start and the early entrance program at the UW seem to be further options for advancement.

Cathy

Charlie Mas said...

Cathy,

I understand your question. The programming is practically non-existent, so why bother to have the programs? There are no ALOs in middle school and no Spectrum in high schools. It could be argued that there is no specific programming or classes in high school for APP either - the students just take more AP or IB classes and take them sooner than other students. There's no programming, so why bother to have programs? Or, more precisely, why bother to claim to have programs?

The answer is historical. Back in the Dark Ages - eight years ago - the class offerings at middle and high schools varied dramatically from school to school. Garfield has a large number and variety of AP classes. Roosevelt had only a few less, but Cleveland had none. That's right: zero. Rainier Beach had only three.

The range of class offerings at middle school were just as broad. Families touring Mercer who asked about advanced math classes were told - by the principal at a school tour - that they should send their children to Washington if that's what they wanted.

There has been a lot of change since then. Now every middle school offers advanced math classes and every high school has a good number and variety of AP or IB classes available. These classes are available to all students regardless of program membership. So program membership means less, so why even have programs? I get it. It's a good question.

To be clear: there is no APP specific classes or programming at the high school level. The only advanced learning classes or programming at the middle school level are APP and Spectrum Language Arts/Social Studies blocks and APP science classes. The District may claim that the language arts classes are one or two grade levels ahead, but I don't know if they would award high school credit for them. Same for the social studies.

There is no reason that placement in these classes could not be done like the placement for math classes instead of following program membership lines. Honors classes are available for students who are not in Spectrum or APP. I'm not sure how 6th grade LA is different from 6th grade honors LA, 6th grade Spectrum LA, or 6th grade APP LA. I'm not sure that Ms Heath could describe the differences among them.

All of the folks who talk about additional rigor in the general education programs should acknowledge this progress and take it as evidence that the district can make this happen.

This rise in rigor available to all students in every school does make Cathy's question possible and, in fact, reasonable.

We should acknowledge that APP and Spectrum are, in truth, 1-5 programs like ALOs, except that ALOs are, for the most part, nothing at all.

It makes you wonder if someone won't be asking that same question about Spectrum and APP in elementary school if the rigor available in the general education classes at that level get the needed improvement.

Anonymous said...

With the standardization of curriculum (and no curriculum specifically designed for APP), APP has lost rigor, so take Charlie's post with a grain of salt. The program has lost some of the challenge and depth and has devolved into little more than acceleration for several classes (like a grade skip without skipping a grade). It's better than nothing, but not how the program was originally designed and implemented.

-disillusioned

Lynn said...

Charlie,

I understand what you're saying - but these kids learn differently (and definitely faster) than most. Too many schools offer honors credit for extra work done in general education classes and AP classes that are required rather than opt-in. Those classes would not be rigorous enough for most APP students. Even the 9th and 10th grade honors english classes are not very rigorous. While there are no APP-only classes, if APP students are concentrated in one or two schools, there's a good change kids will find a peer group in every class. That makes classroom discussions more engaging.

Middle school and high school can be challenging socially - and returning these kids to their neighborhood schools where they are outliers is asking for trouble. I just don't see the point. They don't have to all be in one school - but they should be deliberately grouped at just a few schools. 75 students per grade might be a good goal.

If you want to spread these kids out without diluting the (already not very rigorous) program, the schools you send them to would have to offer Biology and World History in middle school and three years of history/government after AP World History in high school.

Anonymous said...

Regarding APP and Spectrum in middle school:
At middle school, my son is in an Algebra 1 class with 6th, 7th and 8th graders. The 6th and 7th graders, who are mostly APP, catch on to the material much faster than the 8th graders. It's awkward and causes problems for the 8th graders, who are struggling to keep up, even while many of them are a foot taller than the 6th graders:-).
There are good reasons for separate APP classes, and some of them are especially beneficial for the non-APP students.
Momof2

Charlie Mas said...

The issues are clarifying.

If the District defines Spectrum and APP as "one year ahead" and "two years ahead", as Ms Heath defined them to me, then they will dismantle the programs and just place 6th and 7th graders in Algebra classes with 8th graders. Let's bear in mind that, strictly speaking, Algebra is a 9th grade class.

The District's narrow definition of the programs will reduce them to nothing more than grade skipping in middle and high school. This isn't developmentally appropriate. Not at all.

Children go through a lot of change and rapid growth during middle school. There are big developmental differences between a 6th grader and an 8th grader regardless of their exposure to sophisticated ideas or advanced materials. And there are big developmental differences between 9th graders and 12th graders as well. It's probably not a good idea for any of them to be in the same classes together.

But that is the inevitable result of these narrow definitions of the programs. If the programs are re-defined to nothing but grade-skipping then they will be replaced with grade-skipping.

Anonymous said...

Yet, this is what the district website states:

Students who are academically highly gifted present significantly different learning styles, learning pace, and curricular needs that require comprehensive and substantial modification to the general education curriculum and classroom experience to achieve educational benefit.

Both Spectrum and APP have as a stated principle to 4) Provide instruction by teachers familiar with the needs of students who are academically gifted/highly gifted.

disillusioned

Anonymous said...

My kid sits in an APP math class in the highest placement available. He finishes the whole week's work in the first class period while the other kids take the whole week & complain about the hours at home they work on it and then have the deadline extended for several more days the following week. He has not lost one point on classwork or tests. He has never done this math level before.

Does that embarrass the other APP kids? Do they learn differently? Is it any worse than being the gen ed 8th grader with an APP 6th grader in your class? How are you going to have any class with no differences in abilities even in APP? It doesn't make any difference to my kid whether the other kids in class are APP or remedial math.

-puzzled parent

Anonymous said...

@ puzzled parent, your comment doesn't make sense to me. Middle school math classes are NOT APP-specific, so there are most likely non-APP students in your child's class. When you combine lower grade APP students with upper grade non-APP students just because they are technically at the same math level, you end up with courses that move too slowly and lack sufficient rigor for those highly capable learners. This seems to be what you are experiencing, so I'm not clear on why you think it doesn't matter who is in the class. Do you think math classes offered at school will always be too easy for your student? If so, I recommend you look into independent study to move beyond what the school can offer (unless your kid is happy with the easy A, that is).

HIMSmom

Lynn said...

puzzled parent,
It's not embarrassing for the other APP kids because the class is paced appropriately for them. Your son is the one whose needs aren't being met. Isn't he miserable? If there were a few children with his ability and the class was taught to them, the other students would likely find that embarrassing.
Your son is an example of what APP is missing - individualized instruction for kids who are outliers even there. It does a nice job though of finding a peer group for most of the kids who were outliers in their neighborhood schools.

Anonymous said...

Independent study math classes for middle school students are more likely to be taught at an honors level. Advanced math classes in middle school, even when including a majority APP or Spectrum students, are not necessarily taught at an honors level. It depends on the teacher. Perhaps puzzled's child has been placed in a more rigorous class. This is something I don't understand. If students test into a program that states the students need "comprehensive and substantial modification to the general education curriculum," why are classes not taught at an honors level? For math, I have no problem with a 6th grader taking a class with an 8th grader. What I can't understand is why the expectations aren't substantially (and consistently) higher for high school classes taken in middle school.

This whole discussion goes back to how APP/Spectrum are defined. If it's only "2 years ahead" or "1 year ahead" then it's not consistent with what is written on their website. Why?

-fs

Anonymous said...

I wasn't saying that it was a problem to have one - or a few - very bright 6th graders in the math class. However, when the class is all three grades, with the huge developmental changes that occur across those 3 years there's a problem when the group of much smaller kids is clearly ahead of the group of older kids.
Doing Algebra 1 in 8th grade is actually an accomplishment, but it wouldn't feel like it when most of the kids in your class are younger and are whipping through the material much faster and easier than you are.
Momof2

Charlie Mas said...

The research says that highly capable children think differently and should be taught differently.

Not sooner - differently. Putting them in a regular class intended for older students only teaches them sooner, not differently.

Lynn said...

Do you think the AL office will ever come up with a curriculum that takes that into account? At this point, I can't imagine it happening.

Charlie Mas said...

Lynn, the only way that it could happen would be if they would drop their inexplicable obsession with acceleration.

So, no. Ain't gonna happen.

They prefer acceleration to depth and breadth because it is dead simple to measure. The other two, the two that people really care the most about, are difficult (if not impossible) to measure. Can you imagine Ms Heath telling the Board that APP is successful because the students are learning the concepts of the grade level Standards 245% more deeply than typical students and can apply those concepts in 375% more contexts. Yeah. Neither can I.

But speaking as a parent of two APP-eligible and participating students, I cared more about them learning the concepts more deeply and applying them more broadly than I ever cared about them learning the topics faster or sooner. They will get to long division. It doesn't matter if they learn it in the third grade or the fifth grade or the seventh grade. They will learn it. What matters is how well they really understand it and how and why it works.

Unfortunately, thanks to the Seattle math curriculum, they never learned it at all.

Lynn said...

I'd like to see something like this. If an Arizona district with 33,000 students can come up with this, why can't Seattle? We could drop the task forces, pay their gifted education director a consulting fee to set it up, and be so much better off.

Anonymous said...

When you tell me it's better for my kids to remove yours from their classrooms, I can't agree with you. It really wasn't better for my daughter to have all her same age/gender peers in another classroom and be assigned the role of balancing gender in a class of kids who were one to two years older than her. It was NOT better for her to be labeled "not Spectrum qualified". She knows she sometimes takes longer to learn math concepts than her peers, so she welcomes extra help in Math. She excels in reading so being labeled "at the bottom" until her MAP scores proved otherwise was really discouraging for her. A walk to program tailored to her strengths and weaknesses would have served her best. If you need to remove your children from the general education classroom so that they can learn in a way that's best for them, it's OK with me. But please don't say you are doing that out of consideration for my kids. Once you do that, the "middle" the teaching is geared to moves down a bit. Then, it's my problem to get the rigor up in my child's classroom and work with her teachers to see that she is challenged. Again, I respectfully ask you not present your child's program as being structured out of consideration for my child. Gen Ed in Seattle universally needs more rigor not less, so please don't worry that the standards in Gen Ed will rise too high if your kid gets near mine. Do what you need to do, but be honest, you're fighting for your kid, not mine. Thank you.

Gen Ed Mom

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