Friday, May 30, 2014

Troubling Talk

An article in the Seattle Times today troubled me deeply. Tough Talk (from the left) on race and Seattle Schools described a recent meeting in Columbia City called “Race, Class and Education”. The meeting acknowledged the wide difference in academic performance between affluent White and Asian students and minority students from low-income homes. That fact is troubling in itself. The school district's refusal to address the gap is also troubling, but most troubling were the number of people who think the solution is to discontinue honors classes.

You're going to have to read this thing for yourself, but I would like everyone to keep in mind, what Wayne Au apparently has forgotten: that equity and equality are not the same thing. Ending service for students working beyond grade level will not help students working below grade level.


Wayne Au said...

Jeez Melissa. For someone who wasn't there, you seem to claim to have a lot of knowledge of what I said. Also, your statement and question here doesn't jibe with what Claudia reported in her blog post. Please try to be more accurate in the future. I never called for an end to programs at all. Not even close. And Claudia's reporting doesn't say I said this either. I did, however, raise the question as to whether these programs were doing what they claim to be doing, and I also raised the idea that many policy changes that seek to challenge inequality (like de-tracking) actually are blocked by affluent parents. I also talked at length during the event about the difference between equality and equity (yes I know the difference) and I even advocated for equitable funding (officially framed around language of "adequacy" in legal debates). Oh, but I forgot, you weren't there! My question to you, then, is: Are tracking programs "equitable"? The research generally shows them reproducing inequality on the whole.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, jeez Wayne, I didn't write this one and no, I wasn't there.

So I'll just let Charlie take this one.

Wayne said...

Ah, my bad Melissa. His name is so small at the bottom, and I only associate this blog with you, not guest writers! I'll fix the facebook post for sure.

Wayne Au said...

That said, Charlie is even more off base since he was there and clearly didn't "get" the entire discussion. Tracking doesn't equal equity by any definition, unless you are willing to make all classes "honors" AND provide the actual/extra resources to disadvantaged students to pass those classes.

ben said...

This is not meant to be confrontational but Charlie wrote that you advocated getting rid of honors classes and then you just equated detracking with decreasing inequality.

What exactly are you advocating for if its not removing honors classes?

Also its not entirely obvious to me why tracking automatically hurts equity so I'm curious about more of your views around this.

Trish Millines Dziko said...

It's unclear to me whether Charlie was commenting on the article (which in my opinion was poorly written) or that he was there are commenting on what he heard.

I attended both events (the first was in the North end) and there were a lot of different conversations around multiple topics based really on the questions and comments from the audience.

The article should have never been written because it doesn't even come close to describing the conversations. What I appreciate about Wayne is he is not afraid to touch the third rail (race and class) and he knows what he's talking about. He grew up here, has experienced a lot of the many failed efforts of the district and he sees things from a lot of different angles. That makes some people uncomfortable, but almost anything about race and class does--particularly here in Seattle where we have the illusion of inclusion and acceptance.

My advice to the folks who put this on would be to videotape instead of having an article written.

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of a middle school principal who made teachers compile a list of five students in each class who needed extra help.

The students were to be African-American or Hispanic boys only. And the teachers were monitored and graded on how much these boys improved.

Students were chosen by their last names. That is they were put on the 'extra help' list if their names sounded Hispanic or African-American (whatever that means) irregardless of their actual race and irregardless if they actually needed extra help.

And what about girls?

This also left out many students who needed extra help but who didn't meet the 'criteria'.

Maddening for the teachers involved. And damaging to the kids who were singled out, or not, for all the wrong reasons.


Both ways said...

What happens if everyone is the same? If the achievement gap is closed by bringing down the top and bringing up the bottom, do we become a communist nation and get assigned to specific roles in life? Who "gets" to be the doctors, lawyers, movie stars? Who "gets" to be the plumbers, garbage collectors, mechanics? All are needed and valued positions in a productive society (maybe not lawyers and movie stars).

I'm asking in all seriousness since I don't at all understand how it is "equitable" to bring down the top in order to close the gap. Isn't that more favorable for the bottom percentiles making it inequitable? Or, do we only care about equity when it applies to a certain group?

I think the answer lies in fixing kids' home lives by making sure they are well-fed, well-rested, well-loved and dressed for the weather. Since that is virtually impossible, you are taking the cowards way out, in my opinion, by dumbing down the top performers who were "unfortunate" enough to have been born into good families. And, by good I mean loving and supportive. Good has nothing to do with skin color or wealth.

I've read many stories about very poor families whose kids succeeded. I just read a story about a billionaire's 2 kids who were denied an education, food and love.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Both ways, this is an issue but not just for the reason you state.

The Department of Education and Department of Labor are creating a database of Pre-K to about age 20. The "idea" is to see how students are doing, try to help but really, I wonder if kids are going to be "guided" towards certain jobs based on something they did (or did not do) at age 10.

Anonymous said...

This line from the article is interesting:

"...draws a sharp distinction between those who view education as a tool for upward mobility — by definition, a competitive process — and those who believe it should be aimed at strengthening community. As he put it, “Thinking about the public in public education.”

Education IS a tool for upward mobility, isn't it? Isn't the goal of public education to ensure opportunity for ALL (i.e. reduce the opportunity gap) so that everyone has an opportunity to productively and happily contribute to society?

I'm actually at a loss for understanding the meaning of that line. Strengthening community? What exactly do you mean?

My education is the most valuable thing I've got, and I've got it because my family valued education. We came from dirt poor in my grandparents generation to doctors and teachers in my parents generation, and even though I still had to put myself through school, I am now in the 1%
. My parents pushed me hard to get into advanced classes and work hard and learn.

Telling ANY kids that advanced learning is bad is simply a major disservice to them. Advanced learning and working hard can be the golden ticket.

Where in this conversation about race and culture is the discussion about the VALUE of education?! There is so much talk about those damned advanced learners causing segregation, but why aren't we all pushing these kids to get into these programs?!

Our community needs to start valuing education and advanced learning. Stop blaming advanced learning for all of societies problems!

Why not start start the campaign within the community that honors classes are AWESOME and if you want to do well in life, you need to focus on your education.

Education is VALUABLE as a way to increase your own value in society. If school isn't about upward mobility, then you simply aren't serving those kids. They may as well be hanging out on the street corner.

I say create MORE advanced classes and challenge. Make Honors and Spectrum desirable to all these kids. Make them proud to belong to a community that values learning.

Stop telling them that advanced learning is bad and "those kids" are the problem with everything.

Continuing to point the finger at advanced learners as the reason why black people are oppressed only keeps oppressing these kids.


--golden ticket

Jesse Hagopian said...

What is missing from Charlie's blog post, and the original Seattle Times article, is fact that Wayne spent a couple hours at the event defending our public schools, detailing research about the folly of reducing schools to test scores, making important arguments about how to make them more equitable, and suggesting ways to begin to organize the schools around racial justice. It is important to have real debates amongst all of us who are longtime advocates for public education, but not acknowledging the immense contributions that Wayne made to the discussion about how to defend our schools from corporate reform weakens Charlie's arguments. I also wish that Charlie had raised his questions or criticism of Wayne's ideas during the discussion, so we all could have had a full discussion in person and all reached a deeper understanding on these issues.

I agree with Wayne that tracking students has been detrimental to public education and students of color in particular. I would suggest checking out the new book by award-winning principal in New York, Carrol Burris, "On The Same Track." ( I also found this lecture that I haven't heard yet, but is on the same topic:
Carol regular writes for the Washington Post's Answersheet and has been one of the most important figures in the country in defending our kids from high-stakes testing. The blurb from her book states:

"Even as education policymakers lament growing achievement gaps, they continue the practice of tracking students, which has widened the gap and will continue to do so, laments Burris. Tracking amounts to de facto segregation as students are often stratified by race and social class, she argues, and she presents broad research showing how tracking advantages students on higher tracks and disadvantages those on lower tracks. Burris offers historical perspective on grouping students according to their abilities, a practice that stems from the social Darwinism of the industrial age and growing research at the time on efficiency."

This is a very difficult and politically complicated subject. I don't see an immediate course of action around honors classes, and I am very open to hearing from Charlie and other parents about what they value in those courses and how we can get those values to reach more students. To truly make progress on serving all of our kids, we will have to be willing to listen to each other's experiences.

I'm glad this conversation has started because all of us who believe in equity in the public schools will only build a stronger movement by having these dialogues.

-Jesse Hagopian

Anonymous said...

@golden ticket
YES, You are exactly right.
We can't go back and change the factors that have led to some families being disadvantaged but we have to make them see that education is the way out of that disadvantage.
I came from a poor rural family, parents hadn't graduated high school or left the town they grew up in, and I would have been like that too, a pregnant teenager, or bagging groceries in the local store, or something if it wasn't for the fact I did well at school. I'm now an MD and my own kids will be on a completely different trajectory in life. One generation. Completely different SE group and future prospects. My doing well at school was the most important thing for my family despite their poverty, alcoholism/health issues, lack of education, -there were no sports, no extracurriculars (couldn't afford them anyway), it was all about academics. It's not easy and it won't happen for everyone but it does happen. Kids need all the tangible help and encouragement they can get from families, teachers, schools, and community agencies to push them academically. They should all be aiming for those sorts of AL opportunities (even if not all of them make it) - you know then saying "Always reach for the moon, cause even if you miss you land among the stars". We shouldn't be getting rid of opportunities for kids to extend themselves because they exclude some kids, we should be looking at what we can do to get these kids to a point were they can too can access to these opportunities.

country gal

Anonymous said...

My belief is that all students need a strong foundation. There will always be differences but we need to eliminate barriers to education.

A prime example is math. Right now we have discovery math, heavy on text and problem solving. It is difficult for students with attention issues and language challenges. It does not allow enough practice for students to become proficient, so they cannot progress as they reach higher grades.

This math approach has been a disaster for students who struggle and is not ideal for honor students either. It is why so many kids test into remedial math in college, even those who received good grades in high school.

Read the next post about math and contact your director about the new math adoption vote that is coming up next week. Math in Focus would be a huge improvement over Everyday Math, helping more students of all levels have a better chance of success.

S parent

Anonymous said...

Jesse, thanks for your comments.

I remember when I was in high school and I was considering not going on to college, my aunt told me, "your education is the only thing in the world that no one can ever take away from you. You will lose jobs, cars, boy friends and all sorts of other things in life, but your education will ALWAYS be yours."

IMHO, one of the fundamental problems in our schools and in this town is that while we are one of the most educated, book loving and "liberal" towns in the world, we still put down people for being "smart" or "no it all." You are cool if you are a foot ball player, and uncool (even racist/elitist) if you are an advanced learner.

This is backwards. For us to close the achievement gap meaningfully, it means making education both socially and personally VALUABLE. Our kids need to know that it is important, and every little slight or snub that is focused at kids and families who value education simply because they value education IS a fundamental reason why APP is not more diverse.

Every single last kid in APP is there because they want to be educated. They want to learn, and they value education. That all. They aren't there to be exclusive. They aren't there because they want to slight anyone else. They want a good education.

The structure of advanced learning classes aren't the fundamental problem. It is the constant societal pressure in some communities that advanced learning is "bad" and "uncool".

Advanced learning nomination is open EVERY YEAR. Yet why aren't more kids of color going? It's not be cause they aren't smart enough. It's because they don't get nominated or nominated themselves.

Many kids from "disadvantage" homes don't want to join advanced learning opportunities because of the intense social pressure from their peers, parents, and even teachers. Being an advanced learner is being a "no it all" or elitist. It is simply not cool to be smart.

If folks REALLY want to close the achievement gap, start raising kids up and nominating them for advanced learning programs. There are tons of super smart kids that aren't reaching their potential because no one is telling them that it is VALUABLE to be educated and they are being held back from their true potential.

If the "privileged white kids" find that in their neighborhood school they aren't being ALLOWED to go beyond when they are ready to go beyond, this message must be playing out for other kids too.

Some of this rests on how much teachers are promoting and celebrating the love of learning and letting all kids rise up and move beyond "grade level" standards.

Racial segregation in our schools is not something that you fix by dismantling Advanced learning. Instead, why don't we increase advanced learning opportunities and make education "cool."

--golden ticket

Anonymous said...

I'm going to say the unpopular thing.

Kids learn differently. Even two kids from the same exact family - same race, same parents, same $, everything - learn differently. Parents know this. Teachers know this. Jesse Hagopian knows this. All kids can learn, but they learn at different paces and different styles, and some will learn things that others just have no interest in learning, or honestly, can't at that time/place in their lives.

We know that if we went back to a point in our lives - high school or college or wherever - we would learn differently as adults than we did as kids. People develop at a different pace, they learn at a different pace, and it's not fair or appropriate to force them to be the same.

One size - whether it's ALL advanced/honors or ALL general - doesn't fit, doesn't even come close.

I'm all for pushing all kids harder - absolutely - but the reality seems to end up that the kids who want to and can go harder and faster are held back in the name of equity/equality, rather than the other kids being given the extra supports to catch up (b/c THAT would cost money).

One of my kids - 4th grade - came home from math MAP saying this was the first time it got confusing, b/c the questions had strange words in them. I know this kid's abilities, so I asked if it was a symbol like a backwards three or Z? Nope, it was an S-I-N that the kid assumed was a variable, but couldn't quite figure out what to do with. Kid was kind of bummed. Thought the test was a fail. Because, you know, 10 year old who can't do trig... I got the kid to understand that it was fine, and we started making Pythagorean theorem jokes.

Most 4th graders just can't do that. It's life. There's nothing wrong with the other kids - it's appropriate that they don't end up at that level in the MAP test -- BUT THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WIHT MY KID EITHER and my kid deserves a class that meets his/her educational needs. My other kid can't, and won't, be like that.

Shouldn't the kid who can do algebra in grade 4 or trig in grade 6 get the opportunity? What in heaven's name is good or right about denying this kid the chance to move through math at that speed? Should this kid still be trying to learn how to multiply 235 X 42? Why? What is equitable about denying that kid an education appropriate for the child?

Yes, yes, yes, I want every kid to get support - I put my money where my mouth is on that, and donate to really seriously underprivileged rural West Virginia and Detroit schools that make the poorest schools in Seattle look like they have endowments. (Because, SEattle, get over it: the poorest school in Seattle is BLESSED in comparison to Detroit and rural West Virginia meth country, it's all in your perspective).

But my kid should not be stuck in a class learning multiplication when the kid is ready for a heck of a lot more.

Help all kids - find the nonwhite kids who can move faster and absorb more at a faster pace than average, absolutely work on that-I have many practical ideas on how to do that, but no one in authority ever listens

(=things like providing small group tours for underrepresented families/FRL to the APP schools rather than throwing them into the madhouse of general tours; allow FRL kids to shadow at APP for half-day, which kids aren't allowed to do now; have interpreters bring non-English speaking parents to small tours for APP, instead of asking them to join with the English speaking tours,etc)

- but don't hold back the kids who are ready to move faster as the precursor or prerequisite to closing the achievement gap.

Isn't the achievement gap measured against the middle/average anyway? The outliers ready for trig in 4th grade shouldn't be considered in the "gap" - so why is anyone who is concerned about the achievement gap even measuring that metric?

Signed: Math counts

Lynn said...

Hi Jesse,

My kids really appreciate a class that moves at the appropriate pace. If most students need to hear a concept seven to nine times to master it, some need just two or three repetitions. It's very difficult to remain engaged in a class with too much repetition. This is particularly hard in the early elementary years - when children aren't yet able to sit quietly and appear to be engaged.

How would you solve the pacing problem?

Thanks too for the book recommendation. I'll check it out.

Anonymous said...

Lynn, how does every kid, not just the ones in APP, get a classroom that moves at their pace? It is a desirable thing to have and teachers strive to accommodate each child, but the range of ability will always be there. A bigger range in gen-ed classrooms than in APP and even honors classes.there is no floor in regards to academic ability in gen-ed and there is a very high floor in APP,; but what if you are under the app floor and can't get in but are way above average, say in the top 25% of your school, a nice northend school.
Is that classroom going to conducted at your pace? Maybe with expert differentiation all the kids could be served at their optimum level, but parents, usually, assume the best and understand there is some compromise.
APP has got to take a hit for equity. Either throw kids back into local schools and provide service, not so grouped, so requiring better differentiation, or mix the program using affirmative action.

Anonymous said...

App kids do not get a school that moves at their own pace. They get classrooms that are closer(slightly fewer repetitions), and occasionally right on, same as gene ed. A repetition or so extra for a concept instead of 6, like the kids well suitd for gen ed get (including mine happily placed in gen ed- it's not always perfect, but it is close to an appropriate pace which is all I want for my app kid)There is plenty of research to tell you that th e range in an app classroom is as wide as the range in a gen ed class.

I have thought for a while that neighborhood schools need some incentive to try to keep their advanced learners. A kid in the top 25% should be fine- it should not be impossible to serve that child. Or even that hard, but you have to DO it. There should be reading groups and math groups that are close enough, and instructed on level. Or more individual attention with smaller class sizes. 8 years ago this was standard. I don't know if it was everywhere, but it was a lot of places. Not now. instead all the schools(especially popular ones) are so crowded with such enormous class sizes and have no incentive to keep advanced learners, so they offer nothing and suggest app.

I completely reject the notion that app needs to "take a hit" for equity. We can work on diversity in the program. We should also acknowledge that it is a thorny problem that no school district has ever solved, while at the same time recognizing our solemn responsibility to try anyway, always. That does not mean we should stop educating kids who are ahead. APP is already watered down, split so that the outliers have trouble finding peers, and is being further made less rigorous at the middle school level by the district "aligning" it with gen ed (Why? Isn't the point that these kids are ahead? Why can't they be ahead in the program for kids who are ahead?), making it even less appropriate for the kids it's already too easy for. Equity means equal access to a good program, not equal sounding things that don't serve any students.


Anonymous said...

"APP has got to take a hit for equity."

Huh? What does that even mean? There is no room to "throw" kids back into their neighborhood schools. The students that would be most impacted by such a plan are those at schools with fewer APP/AL qualified students. They are less likely to get appropriate instruction compared to schools with lower FRL numbers.

reality check

Anonymous said...

here's an article from last month in the Times about a school in Renton, very high poverty, and rating in MSP 14 in the state. The article discusses the teaching method used, direct instruction, and it is seen as inequitable to teach an opposed to the inquiry method. apparently, even equal test scores are not equal if the teaching method is different.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link.

The school is doing more than just using direct instruction, which is somehow described as a relic of the past, "a 50-year-old teaching method."

They have "an hour and 45 min of math and reading" most school days - which I'm understanding as an hour and 45 min each of reading and math. In addition, they explicitly teach phonics, unlike SPS.

The teacher charged with improving the math looked at the standards compared to the texts and realized he needed to supplement and eventually abandon the district texts. "Teaching to the test" meant they made a concerted effort to adequately cover all the standards to mastery. They practice math facts (instead of delegating that to parents). Imagine if SPS did the same.

To make up for limited time dedicated to science and social studies, they incorporate content into the reading time - sounds like a Core Knowledge approach. SPS uses RRW, which places little importance on what is being read.

Inquiry based approaches do limit the amount of material that can be covered, as well as the time for skills practice.

SPS is so wedded to inquiry style, project-based work, and so dismissive of the value of more direct instruction (and I'm not talking scripted lessons). How much of the disparity in outcomes can be attributed to this? Parents are supplementing with Kumon, tutoring, etc., where students get direct instruction and skills practice.

SPS, you can do so much better.


Anonymous said...

"The school’s high scores also raise questions about whether the achievement gap between the rich and the poor is as intractable as many say, and whether schools can at least ensure all students reach the state’s basic expectations.

If schools like Gildo Rey can close the test-score gap — and there are others, even within the Auburn School District, with scores nearly as high — why can’t more schools do the same?"

Teaching the way it works for kids IS equity! Kudos to these teachers for giving their kids an education. And showing them that education is valuable. Showing them they can be successful! NOT making them feel stupid.

Kids in APP are there because they are bored and have already mastered the skills of about two grade levels ahead. Throw a kid that is struggling into that environment and you destroy his self esteem.

More schools need to do a better job of challenging and teaching kids, and identifying the kids that APP, regardless of their color or back ground.

-golden ticket

Anonymous said...

It's not surprising to read on this blog that people are less troubled by the gulf in academic achievement between the affluent and less affluent, than they are in bolstering one cause of that gap, namely the academic tracking that results in de facto racial and economic segregation in our schools.

Saying tracking doesn't impede those in the less desirable tracks is like saying that a cultivated set of fast runners is to be given a special diet, trainers, togs and a head-start in order to ensure that they can always come in ahead.

When Finland de-tracked their schools achievement scored for everyone. This is the direction we should be moving in. Everyone benefits from an equally well-educated population. The current system tracks people into poverty.

For progress

Anonymous said...

For Progress:
Completely agree.
For Progress

Spectrum Teacher said...

I teach Spectrum and I changed this year to a phonics-based program that was auditory (not Words Their Way) and MAP scores went up dramatifcally in all areas of reading.

Also, I read about Gildo Rey and started more auditory engagement, pacing the lesson much faster and demanding participation and the learning increased. This is rather recent but my kids are paying attention and those who typically tune out are doing so less frequently.

I'm all for the explicit instruction as detailed in that article.

However, the article also stressed data and collaboration among teachers. I can't say that has increased at my school. But just the explicit response-oriented instruction has made a huge difference with engagement and learning.

Spectrum Teacher said...

Sorry for the typos and the second comment on explicit instruction covered math.

Charlie Mas said...

Jeez Wayne, how about you apply some of that reading comprehension that you demand from others.

No one said that you called for the end to programs. Not even close. And the blog post doesn't say that you said this.

Are tracking programs equitable? Depends on how they are operated. If the under-performing students actually get what they need to accelerate their learning, then yes, they can be. If students are able to move up and down in the tracks, then yes, they can be. The evil isn't ability-grouped instruction, it's doing it poorly by failing to serve some students, particularly those who are behind.

The outcomes you see in your research are not much different from the outcomes you see all across the country in which poor, immigrant, and minority students under-perform.

A couple other corrections for you. I'm not exactly a "guest writer" on this blog, I wasn't there, and you yourself provide a recipe for making tracking equitable - so don't ask me for one.

Charlie Mas said...

The article by Ms Rowe was deficient in a number of ways. It failed to mention the earlier event in Greenwood. It did not make it sufficiently clear that she was a panelist at the event. It did not challenge anyone's contentions or call upon them to support them or describe their proposals in any detail.

Was the event as full of people opposed to providing an appropriate academic opportunity for students working beyond grade level as she made it seem? Only the people who were there can say. Mr. Au clearly advocates an end to honors classes, but there is no mention - neither in the article nor here in his comments - about how he would serve those students appropriately.

Let's remember that every student in Spectrum and APP was in a general education class at some time. Their families moved them to the advanced learning program because they were not being adequately served in that general education program. If Mr. Au thinks they should be returned to that general education classroom, then I think he owes those families a plan for what will change in that classroom so that it serves their children.

Charlie Mas said...

Oh, and one more thing:

How, exactly, will ending service for students working beyond grade level help students working below grade level?

Anonymous said...

I changed this year to a phonics-based program that was auditory

Great that it works for your population. Different approaches work for different populations. This would be a disastrous approach for those who learn better visually. Also for many ELL students. And many SPED students. One solution never fits all.

One of the near-crimes of the current APP program is that it too leaves behind kids who have the cognitive skills necessary to participate but not the family-pushed achievement, or who have a disability beyond ADD, or an English-is-not-first-language-at-home issue. This is not OK and I do not blame SPS for potentially ripping up the current AL delivery mechanism and working toward something(s) more inclusive.


Anonymous said...

Different approaches work for different populations. This would be a disastrous approach for those who learn better visually.

It's phonics. It's about sounds of letters.

Learning Styles Debunked

How You Learn

-happy reading

Spectrum Teacher said...

Sorry, Equity. Not really true. Developmentally, children generally K-1 need auditory over visual. I'm in early primary. Lots of research showing high achievers who sight read have difficulty working out unfamiliar words. By age eight or thereabouts visual memory kicks in and programs that promote visual cues are more successful esp. for visual learners. That's why spelling is generally postponed until second grade.

I commented on that particular point to show that the District is often influenced more by marketing than by proven programs. And I did neglect to point out that it was for early primary. I believe K-1 teachers should abandon Words Their Way and get back to developmentally appropriate phonics and emphasize phonemic awareness which will help all kids become better spellers in the end and work towards helping dyslectic readers.

Around the age of eight when learning styles differentiate and short-term long-term memory is better developed you might have an argument.

Happy Reading: I'll read your link. I have often thought we place too much reliance on differentiating to accommodate learning styles but never had any real evidence. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Bob Vaughan once said it best: "APP doesn't create advanced learners; it collects them." The notion that they get an unfair amount of fertilizer, or someone else's share, has no basis in fact. But scapegoating is so irresistible that such theories will always have legs.

The AL Dept. and our schools do a poor job of identifying APP & AL qualified kids in historically under-represented groups, and the AL Directors know this. That they haven't done more to fix that problem is their failure, and it certainly won't be fixed by dismantling programs elsewhere that appropriately serve the students in them. The fault lies with the adults adults who control the notifications, identification processes and admissions.

Change for change's sake is the busy work bureaucrats love to deflect attention from their own shortcomings, and community resentment is the venom that fuels it, not progress. If you want what "they" have, the district's typical response is not to give it to you by replicating and expanding what "they" have to include you (that takes work), but instead to take away what "they" have and say, "there, now you're even."

I frequently read comments that include "equity" and "criminal" in the same posts, yet, there's a conspicuous absence of complaints about the district's utter failure to deliver the promised ALO's throughout the district. (And if you need convincing proof that differentiation doesn't work, there it is, btw.) And that failure rests with principals and the Administration, not AL or APP families, but where is the focus on that? The silence is deafening.


Anonymous said...

Spectrum Teacher. What phonics system? Sounds good.
Another teacher

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yay for a civil discussion.

Spectrum Teacher said...

I'm using a supplement to the program called Sound Patterns which I still had from a decade ago. I'll have to find the name of the original complete program which I used my first year of teaching as I started at a school that didn't even have a reading program in the building! I got it at Academic Aids and it proved to be fantastic. Of course, it was a program designed to fill a good two hours which we all know is hardly possible these days.

But the supplement gave me a good short program to target phonemic skills and it is all auditory. I did have students write the words in notebooks following the session but the emphasis is on hearing the sounds and rhymes.

Anonymous said...

another teacher

Anonymous said...

WSDWG said, If you want what "they" have, the district's typical response is not to give it to you by replicating and expanding what "they" have to include you (that takes work), but instead to take away what "they" have and say, "there, now you're even."

On my gosh, that is so true. The potential loss of math waivers is a good example. It's a Harrison Bergeron mentality....The year was 2081 and everybody was finally equal.


Anonymous said...

It's conversations like this that make it easy to understand why ~30% of Seattle's kids have been driven out of the public schools. If parents don't see the public school system as providing for their kids' educational needs, those with the means to do so will find an alternative.

Using the "equity" argument to bring down the top performers for the sake of "fairness" is a recipe for turning Seattle Public Schools into a place only for those too poor to go somewhere else. Good luck getting voter support for education at that point.

Quality Education for All

Anonymous said...

Not SPS but at an independent school, my son took off this year (first grade) going from emerging reader to one of the best spellers in the class with instruction using the Letterland curriculum. It uses stories and characters to help build phonic skills. He came home every day for months telling me what the characters did that day.

Ann D

Anonymous said...

SPS kindergarten uses that! At least ours did. Both my kids "went to Letterland." It is a very engaging curriculum, and I agree, taught my kids well.

-letter lover

Wayne Au said...

I love your constructive tone. Glad you decided to engage in a conversation instead of making assertions about what I do or do not know. Not the first time I've been attacked in public by someone whom I'm not sure actually has read the research on a policy that they are talking about.

All I'm saying go look at the research. In addition to whatever else you folks think you are defending about tracking, systems of tracking have ALWAYS reproduced inequitable relations in schools, and that inequity has always mirrored the inequality that exists outside of schools. Yes we'll find individual examples of individuals rising through the ranks, but when we look at the aggregate, we get the same old same old: kids of parents with more resources and who have gone to college are in higher tracks, oftentimes with more resources, and working class kids and kids of color in the "lower" tracks. Whether you admit it or not, this is empirical fact.

So, based on that reality, I said what I said. It has been well documented, particularly with regards to tracking, that affluent parents have blocked de-tracking efforts purely out of fear of their child losing their "leg up" in their perceived educational competition. And yes, I believe that de-tracking is actually an equity position (and an equality position) because it pushes back against the historical (and contemporary) function of schools acting as sorting populations into different occupational tracks (which, by the way, is the exact origin of tracking in education - it is even connected directly to eugenicist notions of biologically determined intelligence).

So you and others support tracking, that's fine. Just be honest enough to admit that you are supporting an educational policy that has reproduced inequality (and inequity) at every turn, one that has been defended for years by advantaged communities interested in maintaining their advantages for their own children, not necessarily anyone else's.

And yes, I know quite well the difference between equity and equality. Based on your post, I'm not sure you know, actually.

But hey, I'm only Dr. Au, associate professor at UW Bothell with tenure, who studies education policy, has authored a ridiculous number of articles, book chapters, books, etc, speaks nationally on these issues, and who spends the entirety of his work focusing on issues of social justice in education.

And no,I don't say all that because I think I walk on water, and I generally don't buy into elitist designations, BUT I do think that I've earned the right to a conversation about these issues instead of an ignorant attack about what I don't know in education, especially from someone who wasn't willing to publicly ask the question and engage in discussion at the event. But based on your tone here, I'm not convinced you're interested in actually engaging in a discussion - just provocation.

So good on ya Charlie! You provoked successfully. Now I know the logics and arguments of pro-tracking folks like yourself and others posting here. The real test is if you or your readers will actually explore the issue with any depth and complexity and try to understand the arguments against tracking as well.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Au,

Can you please explain how you think a de-tracked system can effectively serve students who are highly gifted? I understand your argument as to what you dislike about tracking, but I'm having trouble seeing how an alternative approach would meet the needs of kids who are several years ahead of their peers, or who learn much, much more quickly. Is the idea to try stall their growth, to make kids more "equal"? We've seen that differentiation in the classroom is a pipe dream, so what's your suggestion? It's not enough to just say de-track.

And a quick question re: tracking. Does the research apply to tracking that puts kids on paths that lead to different endpoints, such as an academic track vs. a vocational track? In the current SPS system, there aren't really tracks in that sense. For the most part, kids in the APP program end up in the same place as those who don't, taking basic classes their freshman year in high school. Then they have access to AP classes the next year, just like everyone else. With the exception of science (and this is at Garfield only), APP doesn't really fast-track you anywhere. In fact, you could argue that APP slows kids down--kids start out ahead of their peers, but end up in the same place. Perhaps APP is an equalizer?

Lynn said...

Dr. Au,

Can you direct me to the research that documented the motives of parents who support ability grouping in schools? Your theory doesn't hold true in my case - as I don't see education as a competition. (There's not a limited amount of knowledge to go around.)

Is your complaint that "tracking" creates inequities or that it doesn't help to eliminate them?

Placing gifted children in heterogenous classrooms doesn't help struggling students. My understanding is that they don't see gifted children as role models - and that they are less likely to actively participate in a class where the range of abilities is too large. On the other hand, I've seen improper placement do a lot of damage to a gifted child. (Though maybe that's the equalizing effect you're looking for?)

Children go to school to learn - not to correct society's problems. That is a job for adults - and something they'll need to do without using children as tools.

Anonymous said...

hopefully kids go to school to learn HOW to fix society's least, that what SPS should be striving for. after all , it is a PUBLIC school system. if a parent just wants their child to learn in order to get a head in the world or to get a religious education, they can opt to go private. public schools are in fact supposed to provide a benefit for all of us, not just each individual student. i think you got that a little wrong.


Anonymous said...

An analysis of the research on ability grouping

-more reading

Lynn said...


I disagree. Our public education system exists to fulfill our obligation to children to prepare them to enter college or begin a career and to be engaged citizens.

The district's strategic plan says:

Mission: Our Students Come First
• We believe it is essential to place the interests of students above all others in every
decision we make.
• We believe that the core work of the district is supporting student learning.
• We believe it is our responsibility to do whatever it takes to ensure that every child,
regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, language proficiency, learning style or disability, achieves to their highest level.

Jon said...

I think what we have here is another example of the conflict between those who view the primary purpose of schools to be educating children and those who view its purpose to primarily be some form of society building.

There always is pressure on the school system, public and private, to do something other than teaching reading and math. From the right, it usually takes the form of religious instruction. From the left, it often is some form of postmodernist multiculturalism. Advocates from these groups see the goal of schools not as teaching objective truth, such as reading and math skills, but trying to build their version of a what they believe is the only moral society through exposure only to their particular doctrine. They sometimes go further, as some commenters here seem to have done, and deny there is any reality or objective truth, that we are all pawns in some great conspiracy or power struggle, that teaching reading and math has no purpose, or that doing anything other than teaching their religion or philosophy is immoral.

Clearly it is silly to try to do religious or multiculturalist society building through Seattle Public Schools. All it will do is cripple the education and prospects of children unfortunate enough to go through Seattle's school system while having no effect on the much larger number of children outside of that system. But that doesn't stop people from advocating for schools teaching doctrine over reading and math, here in Seattle and elsewhere in the county.

It may be disturbing that there are people near or within Seattle Public Schools administration who do not believe that the primary purpose of the public school system is to educate children to the maximum of their ability, but it is common to have these kinds of people in any school system. Those of us in the reality-based community have to do our best to push back and make sure the children of Seattle get a real education.

Lynn said...

Dr. Au,

Are you actually advocating closing the achievement gap by ensuring that gifted and high-achieving students are not provided the opportunity to achieve their full potential? If that's the case, my kids would prefer just to be taught at their own pace two days a week and be given the other three days a week off. (I promise not to let them spend the whole time reading.)

Anonymous said...

Respectfully, Lynn,
Public schools have a duty to do more than academics. Do we teach about slavery but give no indication of a moral imperative?
Do we not teach sex ed with a message of safety, abstinence and respect? Bullying? Do we have an opinion or are we just math, science and reading? And what can kids read? Why does the district pick Island of the Blue Dolphins? Just a random book based on vocabulary difficulty?
You must have cherry picked the strategic plan to avoid the words safety, community, well being.
The public, who pays for school, WANTS more than just the three r's, they want kids to learn values, respect, community, compassion.That is a problem with APP and self-contained classes, the isolation brings a loss of contact with others of different abilities. It's not like sports as so many like to say. It's more going to the supermarket and there is an express lane for the wealthy and the high IQ people and long lines for the rest. Everybody needs food and should be fed what they need to grow and prosper, but the few don't deserve there own line, unless they are disabled and that means the very highly capable not 10% of the district. This foot dragging and knee jerk opposition to a more inclusive district is so counter productive.I hope other APP parents believe more in social harmony being ONE of the goals of education.
having academics above all else is also a doctrine. One that many taxpayers would not agree with. In fact, it is a toxic doctrine that fuels our " I got mine" philosophy that has made our country a hard place to survive for many despite incredible wealth. Do you read the facts on income inequality or growing rates of poverty or is it just the test scores and grades of the lucky ones that matter?
Plus, do we want more and more religious animosity and racial and class strife instead of educating kids about pluralism and acceptance of different cultures?
Schools moved away from just academics a long.long time ago.
One of the reasons for compulsory schooling was to reduce and eliminate child labor and to create an educated workforce to benefit all of us.School desegregation was used to eliminate Jim Crow in the south and redlined and segregated neighborhoods in the north,cities like Seattle.
call it social engineering or multiculturalism or liberal pap, the point is it is an important part of school and it doesn't work well with a two track system.
Rigor can be achieved without excessive segregation of students. There is line for self-contained, bur it should be kept as small as possible.

Anonymous said...


I understand your point, but the whole "express lane for the wealthy, long lines for the others" is off base. You think APP gets preferential treatment??? I must have missed that.

And while APP may be an easy (and politically popular) target when it comes to issues of lack of diversity, it's probably not the best target. If you really want to promote diversity within schools, fight the NSAP. The Advanced Learning office is one of the few depts within the district that is actively trying to increase diversity!


Anonymous said...

some would consider grouping the top 10% OF students some, maybe all, would consider varsity sports preferential. But contrary to many APP defenders, sports at high levels, even through school, is not the same as academics. For one sports are optional and two, they are by definition competitive.
School is neither of those.
Very capable, just like very disabled, may require self containment, but it not healthy for the district to have such a large separate program for kids who could be taught equally well with other kids.We want all kids educated, we don't want kids bored and unproductive, and we also want integration of differently abled kids, including academically abled.
My hope is that the NSAP will promote racial mixing in housing in the city as a whole as parents in poor areas move to get their kids in better schools and gentrifiers move to low income areas and work to improve their local schools. APP is not helping in anyway towards desegregating our city, and it needs to be drastically reduced.
BTW, "target" is such a self important and pitying word to use. I wish the APP parents who see the inherent problem with the program and who would actually like to see their kids served in a less segregated environment stepped up with some ideas instead of letting the same people rehash the same old arguments for AL tracking. Kids of APP ability can and do make equal progress in regular schools.AL has the data on kids who have moved from disbanded Spectrum programs to cluster grouped, on former APP kids who have returned to their local and on kids who have moved into APP. Maybe they will share it someday and make a case for ending academic apartheid, but the myopia of many parents in the program is more a hearts and minds campaign and probably not winnable

Lynn said...


You're short on specifics. How can rigor be achieved without "excessive segregation" of children? How do you personally define "excessive segregation?" And who gets to draw the line to decide which children need self-contained classrooms?

I did not indicate schools should only teach math, reading and science. History is a fine subject for teaching lessons about human rights and equity. I did say that every student should be learning in school. A child shouldn't be held back so that he or she doesn't get too far ahead of other students.

Using the term tracking is not helpful here. Tracking to many people indicates putting students in high school on a college prep or vocational track and enrolling them in classes that only prepare them for that track. Nobody is advocating for that.

When you group students by ability, a teacher can provide the instruction they need. If a child needs to work on grammar and vocabulary in high school, they should receive instruction in those areas. If they do not need those lessons, they should be able to take a language arts class that will provide them with new skills.

If a child is reading at the fifth grade level in the first grade, leaving them in a general education reading class is a waste of their time and a waste of taxpayer dollars. It also does nothing to benefit their classmates or increase equity in our society.

I could be totally wrong here. Can you describe what happens in a homogenous freshman language arts classroom that benefits the student that isn't quite reading on grade level, the capable student who would benefit from reading and discussion the novels to be covered, and the kid who read those books on his own years ago and really wants to and is ready to move onto more complex texts and topics? Please convince me this is better for everyone (or anyone.)

Anonymous said...

I think you have homo and hetero mixed up, Lynn.No offense, but the bubble you inhabit seems to have to blinded you to the way education works outside of APP. Kids in high school are indeed grouped as they are in middle school and many K-5s.

Anonymous said...

Wayne Au,

You seem to be promoting de-tracking in K-12 public schools and yet you proudly boast of being in the tenure track at your university. How do you explain that?

- Brazil

Lynn said...

Oops. I see that I got that wrong. I'm not sure what you're saying - that the classroom I described is common in high school - or that it's not because classes are ability grouped?

Either way - as that's the type of classroom you're advocating for - can you tell me how you think it works for the students I described?

Anonymous said...

Ya Wayne,
i am sure you separate your spoons from your forks, so why don't you like segregation in everything?
Seriously, you are butting your head against a wall with APP believers. It's not about giftedness so much as getting ahead, being more competitive and getting into better colleges and universities, for some. Many APP parents are not that type at all, but they are not so vocal. Thanks for responding, we don't get the real academics weighing in too often.

Lynn said...

I'm here and I'm a vocal APP parent who doesn't consider education a competitive event.

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Is it that classrooms like the one I described are common in SPS high schools - or that they are not but should be? Either way, I believe that's what you're advocating for.

How do the students I described benefit from that classroom grouping?

Anonymous said...

for hecks sake,
they group kid in middle, high and elementary and yes, they differentiate and yes, high ability kids do well. They don't mentor and tutor, they learn and they learn as much as kids in segregated programs. Only a few top level ability kids need to be out of classrooms with other kids all day every day. Maybe you need to go to a regular school and ask around and tour classrooms.As I said, APP parents are frequently not aware of how the many very capable students not in APP are taught and how well they are doing. Again, AL has the data and if and when they reduce APP to a truly special needs program, they should trot out some stats to back it up.