Part Three will cover:
- the Advanced Learning Work Session on Feb. 8th
- the UW Equity Summit on Gifted Education, Feb. 9-10
Here's my groundwork on this topic (and you probably have heard me say this before):
- There has never been a champion for gifted education in Seattle Schools in senior management or on the School Board. Don't conflate that statement with saying no one cares; that is simply not true. But, for whatever reason, some senior management/Board members either feel they cannot speak out for these students or some believe that they don't need to/don't have it high on their list.
When Superintendent Nyland makes off-the-cuff remarks at school board meetings like, "HCC is a growth industry," you can feel that apathy and/or disdain.
- This has led to a marginalizing of this program. Several outcomes have come from that inattention/apathy.
1) The program is more about testing than academics outcomes. There is no real direction to what is happening, just acceleration. Teachers and principals seem to be finding their own way without any real support from the district.
Despite the fact that years ago, this district seemingly made the commitment to providing rigor/challenge to all students at any school via ALOs (Advanced Learning Opportunities), whether those students were AL identified or not, it is clear that ALOs are just one more CSIP line for many principals. And the district has let them get away with it.
2) The testing has not been universal at one grade level and so the district is clearly not reaching all students who could benefit from the program, primarily students of color. There have been years of this pattern, with some appropriate hand-wringing, but not much done.
There are several things that could be done but the district, for whatever reason, hasn't done them. Primary among them is telling principals and teachers that they are not to bad-mouth this program nor hide it from their parents nor ignore it. I believe (and know, to some degree) that this has been going on for years.
3) But in today's SPS, "equity" is the big idea for the district, so now, the district cares about AL (somewhat.) It feels more like an optics problem than genuinely wanting to create a better program.
The district doesn't care that the program has been systematically dismantled without input from parents or even acknowledgement from the district of these actions.
They don't care that testing takes most of the AL budget.
And while Superintendent Nyland calls opportunity gaps, "the issue of our time," he seems perfectly content to the idea from senior staff that it will take two years (!) to figure it all out. Even though there have been studies - paid studies - in the past and the issues are fairly clear.
- The district, while only vaguely ever supporting/cheering for students with high academic abilities, gets a lot out of those students and their parents.
The goal in any district is to have engaged parents in partnership with the district. Just as a school cannot really be great without a solid principal, you can't have a successful district without involved, engaged parents.
No matter how you view AL parents, at many schools, they are very involved parents. They participate in PTAs, they serve on taskforces and school committees. And, their children help boost the test scores of the schools they attend and boost the district's overall scores.
To be in AL, the district has mandated that those students forfeit their ability to opt-out of state testing, even though a different test determines who actually may enroll in AL programs.
- If students of color are missing an academic opportunity that would help them see growth, you'd think there would be some urgency to this mission.
So why isn't there urgency to the mission? I can't say for sure.
Bigger worries because "those kids will turn out fine?"
That underlying belief among some staff, administrators and teachers that separating students - for any reason - is wrong?
Or, as I put forth in Part One of this series, that there seem to be some who don't even believe in giftedness in students.
I don't know but it has been clear for several years that AL has been quietly trying to morph itself. Now that process seems to have sped up.
Here's what I think will happen within two years:
- The first one is easy - Spectrum is dead. What will exist is a quasi-Brulles splitting of Spectrum/HCC-identified students in schools among classrooms, thus providing more teachers with more high-achieving students AND kinda/sorta giving those students a cohort of sorts. How much acceleration gets done for those students would seem to be a mystery but given the mantra of "site-based management," it would seem to be a judgment call on the part of teachers/principals.
- One, the district will tighten up both the cut-off and the appeals. They don't like HCC getting bigger (especially since it seems apparent that many students who would otherwise be in Spectrum are now jonesing for HCC.) So how to shut that down? Make the cut-off higher and/or tighten that appeals process. I suspect it might be problematic to have a higher cut-off so make it harder for people to get in via the application process.
- To be sure, the district will likely still provide F/RL students and their parents the opt of having a free, private appeals test but also continue not trying very hard to make that widely known. (The stats prove that there is a significant drop-off of kids of color who take the test but don't appeal. Something is up with that because what parent would not appeal if their child was borderline AND private testing would be free?)
- Two, I would have predicted entire schools for HCC (a la Cascadia) but the growth of the district will likely preclude that. I have advocated for this for years because then you'd have the "out of sight, out of mind" for those who dislike the program and I believe,it would strenghen the program. That lack of ability to have HCC "islands"means the district will have to really make some definite choices about where HCC will be located and have to find schools that will truly embrace it. HCC lacks real buy-in from schools as well with outright hostility (see Garfield) towards the program.
- HCC will NOT go away but I believe it will shrink and that acceleration will continue to be the main focus. There is not the interest in the district to do better nor the dollars to provide that kind of PD and/or curriculum to teachers.
Here's where it may get tricky for the district. ALOs may end up becoming the big thing because as the district gets rid of Spectrum and tightens the screws on HCC, something WILL have to be done at the school level. I honestly do believe that there will be enough parents who will have high-achieving kids and will agitate for something to be provided at the neighborhood level.
Again, if the district continues with site-based management, it's difficult to tell what that might look like. But if parents stay strong, there might be a very precise accounting of what schools need to do to provide rigor and/or acceleration for students.
However, there is one caveat. I don't know if ALOs will necessarily be available to all students. It would necessitate a huge shift in schools if masses of students in every school wanted to access an ALO. So maybe, you'd have to show proof - not just a teacher recommendation - and take a test to have access to those services. I recall a reader explaining that she had her child take the test just to show the principal that yes, her child needed more.
I hope the district - as it goes thru its lengthy process of revamping AL - will have the good grace to make a commitment to ALOs in every school. However, ALOs could go away as we wait to see the outcomes from what experiments that Garfield and Thurgood Marshall are doing for their students. The district mshould require Garfield and Thurgood Marshall to have outside reviews of their efforts as well as parent and teacher surveys. If they don't, then you know the fix is in.