Thursday, February 23, 2017

Advanced Learning in Seattle Schools, Part Two

In this thread I want to cover:my thoughts on what I believe AL is to become (and why).

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.
          I would predict the Spectrum nomenclature would go away entirely because there is no there

  •  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.


Anonymous said...

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.

One small clarification - In order to qualify for AL, a student has to have taken the state testing, but once enrolled in AL, students can opt-out of state testing (with the exception of high school proficiency tests). State testing may also be used for middle school math placement. SPS can't prevent families from opting-out, but they can provide disincentives for doing so. It does not seem unreasonable to require state testing as part of AL screening and qualification. Families just need to plan accordingly and think carefully about the consequences of opting-out.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks, Opt-Outer, for that clarification.

"It does not seem unreasonable to require state testing as part of AL screening and qualification."

If the program was a good program, I would agreement with that statement.

Anonymous said...

The district should 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.

Should, but they won't. Instead they'll provide very basic data that confirm exactly what they wanted to confirm in the first place, because what they measure and how they measure it are likely to be designed for just that purpose.

It's like the annual Highly Capable Services evaluation, which is so superficial it's almost funny. HC services districtwide are evaluated entirely based on Cascadia, an anomaly site (100% HCC) that only serves elementary grades? How does that make sense?

Data seeker

Stuart Jenner said...

Yesterday a friend told me about attending a session led by John Hattie. It had been a while since I'd thought about his meta-studies of educational effectiveness. He wrote his original book in 2009, then has made some updates.

From looking at a summary on his web site, it would seem his advice is accelerate, don’t detrack, don’t count on ability grouping or class grouping.

There are a few different places with “grouping” or “ability.” He says a rating of above.40 is a measure of something that's effective at boosting student achievement. Class grouping is .18, then Ability Grouping is .12, and detracking is .09. In other words, detracking is almost a negative.

At the top, Acceleration is .68.

I am hoping some educators or parents who understand the meta-studies and Hattie's research better can look into this and use the findings for an informed discussion with school districts about gifted education.

Charlie Mas said...

I think the future will look a lot like the present. There will be HCC and little else.

The District is not and never will be serious about getting schools to address the needs of advanced learners because doing so is incongruous with Standards-based education. The one and only focus in a Standards-based system is to get every student to the Standard. As soon as a student reaches grade level standards the attention shifts to the student who is next closest to reaching Standard. There is no energy, no interest, and no resources for supporting work beyond Standards. The Standards, intended in theory as a floor, function in practice as a ceiling.

Parents have a very limited view of what the teachers are doing in the classrooms. They have little knowledge about whether their child is learning anything or not. If the kid is bringing home good grades and doesn't appear excessively unhappy, the parents are satisfied. They can't tell if the student is being taught at, beyond, or below grade level and they shouldn't have to develop that expertise.

Worse, it wouldn't help them if they did. Suppose parents bothered to educate themselves on the grade level standards and checked the student's classwork and homework to confirm that it is on grade level. Then what? Have you ever tried to complain that the classwork is too easy for your child? How effective was that complaint? From the beginning to the end, the teacher can tell the parents to go screw. Even if the principal makes sympathetic sounds, there is nothing the principal can do. Anyway, the principal is also likely to tell you to go screw. And where does that leave you? Nowhere. They have all of the power and the authority and the student family has none. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis. You are utterly powerless to have any influence over your child's education. Nothing will happen unless the teacher chooses to do it.

So what can you do? Get active. First thing: opt out of all tests. Those tests do nothing for you or your child. Second thing: encourage others to opt out of the tests. Third: make sure that the teacher, the principal, the Executive Director of Schools, the school board and every name you can find in the chain of command knows that your child is not being served and that the teacher and the principal refuse to serve your child as District policy requires and that your child will not take any tests until they are served and that you will not stop encouraging others to opt out of the tests until all of the children are served. Fourth: go to other schools, share your story, and encourage them to opt out of the tests as well. Fifth: make common cause with as many other underserved communities as you can find. Support them and ask them to support you. Sixth: Testify before the board at every freaking meeting describing how the teacher, the principal, the Executive Director of Schools, and everyone all the way up to the Board is violating policy by failing to serve your child.

In short, raise holy hell. Make is easier to address your child's needs than to put up with you.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, while it'd be sad, it'd also be 100% understandable if you shut off comments rather than spend your time sifting out the horrid/spam. We're still interested in your thoughts, even if we can't discuss them on this site because of trolls.

- A Fan

Anonymous said...

Opting out as a passive aggressive means of "sticking it" to SPS will have little impact. You've suggested this many times, Charlie, but it fails to go anywhere. There's probably more overlap of anti-testing and anti-vaccination families than anti-testing and AL families. You are right that little is done if teachers fail to follow standards or simply can't teach. Been there, done that. It's like being in a Kafka novel. You know how some families deal with it? Paid tutors. Part-time homeschooling. Afterschool supplementation. Private school.


not mc-t said...

because a fan is not really a fan of hcc. group 1 as i described in a previous post.

no caps

not mc-t said...

mw and cm thank you!

there are a few items i would differ with you on but the largest is that there seems to be a money = race thing going on that is really not true.

"(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?)"

no they are frl they are not black. those very well have been middle class black families ineligible to meet the frl status.

also on testing: you have no way to say universal testing would include more black students (that is what we are talking about here, albeit many draw from new immigrants families as well as those in transitional housing) as that hasn't proven out in the past. i would think with the se initiative already underway with t1 schools i would say there is 2x likely to increase the non-blackness of hcc than decrease it with universal testing. that said not doing universal testing does insure any kid not going to the testing schools currently is really being denied the same access as those in the south east. i would argue that anyone who wants to talk equity should explore that matter further.

thanks for all you do. posted in haste dinner prep calls.

no caps

Anonymous said...

I get your frustration. Please know that most at least some HCC teachers are doing the best we can. I am teaching HCC for the first time this year and was completely in shock to find out there is no curriculum. Nothing to help HCC teachers do a good job of meeting the needs of their students. We are only human and can only do so much in one year. I take solace in knowing that next year will be better than this year, and each year I will continue to make my classes more challenging for my students. However, I have a family at home and can't devote 24/7 to my job. Please don't encourage people to tell everyone who will listen that their teacher isn't challenging their child. That is horrible advice. I am trying my best to meet the needs of most of the students in my classes. Are there about 5-7 of my students in each of my classes who need even more challenge and rigor? Yes, absolutely, and it kills me that at this point in my career I don't have the time or resources to give them what they need. Until the district steps up and gives us a meaningful curriculum there is only so much we can do.
-Support needed

Anonymous said...

How can the government employees who work in our public schools, all funded by taxpayer dollars, not abide by the laws of the nation? Teachers in US public schools, elected officials like mayors and governors, are public servants, and need to respect the laws of the city, state, county, and Federal government.


not mc-t said...

as for acceleration with tm tinkering to offer ss with gen ed students who many /most are new to america (and some to english and to streets that aren't war torn) expect to go deeper quicker and two years advanced. so no acceleration is on its way out. middle school's got rid of acceleration thanks to 'rouge' admins and even less guided and snuck through the middle of the night changes to curriculum. it was said it would be tailored to hc kids. it wasn't. it was only tailored to sps curriculum standards. nothing there there either mw.

nothing will come from honors for none and hc classes for anybody. they have already said they are highly successful without metrics to compare. just like hcc in general there is no data to crunch when you collect no data.

michael tolley knows what he is trying to do. get hired somewhere else and if he is seen as running a racist district, then bellevue won't hire him or he won't take over after do nothing nyland. regardless of why there might be a less than comparable black kids numbers and to some extent hispanic (and higher asian numbers): ell, frl and sped/2e. they know how the data splits yet they never share those groups.

no caps

not mc-t said...

perhaps finally, fwiw will love this, where are the neighborhood school level hc services? they are required by law. even in k. even in hs. the recs from the altf2 asked for counselors in every hs to get pd to deal with the inherent issues with teaching hc kids, especially outside of a cohort. that didn't happen because of local control. show my a k teacher that is teaching those kids any different knowing they are going to be gone next year. or even if they stay there is no there there for them anyhow. death spiral has commenced. i see why it will be there next year. i also see without adequate support, which hasn't been there from the district, i can see them beating this down until no one will bother.

no caps

Ceiling Hitters said...

SPS is currently throttling the educations kids receive based on age.

"Age 6? Six-year-olds must read at a Fountas and Pinnell level of E. It's impossible for a 6-year-old child to be ahead of level E. We know this to be true because we refuse to level their reading beyond level E. If we don't catch them reading above a level of E, it's probably not happening, right? Any scholars who read at a level higher than E for any reason will only be allowed to read level E books and will thus appear to be at level E. Problem solved."

This is education throttling for children. It's an education starvation diet.

"Sorry, kids, you've already consumed all the learning we have to offer you this year. Please sit quietly and wait until you are cleared to proceed to new learning goals."

Heartbreakingly, there's no benefit to this. Preventing children who are ahead from learning doesn't actually help anyone. Not checking a child's reading level does not actually change the child's reading level, it just creates an illusion among teachers and staff that children's academic needs are being met. I suppose it can provide the illusion that a gap in achievement levels has narrowed (by not checking what the actual level the top 1/3 of students are at, you could preserve the illusion that they're not all that much higher than the other 2/3 of students). However, that is only illusory as many of the top 1/3 are actually reading at levels higher than they're being tested for. Throttling advanced learners (identified as such or not) harms them at NO benefit to the rest of the students. Schools are full of level Q, R, S, T, etc. books. If kids need access to books at those reading level why not let them read those books? Education throttling, that's why.

It's like saying, "Here at SPS, no one can run a mile faster than 8 minutes and 15 seconds. We know this is true because anyone who crosses the finish line ahead of the 8:15 time mark automatically earns a time of 8:15. Just look at how many great runners we have, fast runners, the best runners, so many of them finishing by the best possible time of 8:15."

If you point out that an SPS student runner can run a mile in 6 minutes and 30 seconds, the school folks go all bleary eyed. They pretend your runner CAN'T run that fast. You offer to show them. They say there's no need to do that. Your runner crosses the finish line at 6:30. They say you must have been coaching them (gasp), maybe allowing them to run outside of school hours (gasp), maybe you promote a pro-running culture at home.

I mean, what? Was there a rule somewhere that said to be worth educating students all need to come to school with exactly the same experiences, family lives, values, etc.? Why do they all need to be the same? Why can't students who run fast just run fast? Why is that anathema?

Stop education rationing. Let students run whatever speed they run. Encourage them to practice, train, learn, work hard, and improve. Don't pretend they're all running the same speed. Whatever kind of race that is, it's screwed up. Celebrate their differences. Encourage them all.

For the life of me, I can't understand why the Gates Foundation isn't fighting for that. And the Chamber of Commerce. And the Board. And parents. And students. And teachers. Especially teachers.

Charlie Mas said...

@support needed. No, you don't get my frustration. My frustration isn't about HCC classes, it's about students working beyond grade level standards in general education classrooms. You read me all wrong.

Of course it takes two to miscommunicate, so let me be clear about this:

So long as Seattle Public Schools remains a Standards-based learning system, students outside of HCC will not be supported in their academic work beyond Grade Level Standards. Certainly not reliably and probably not at all - despite the fact that District policy requires it.

There is nothing - NOTHING - that student families can do about this because there is no way to compel teachers in general education classrooms to make it happen. Families cannot do it. Principals cannot do it (and the bulk of them don't want teachers to do it). District staff cannot do it. The Board cannot do it. No one can make teachers provide advanced learners with appropriately challenging material if the teachers choose not to do it. The policy that requires it is completely unenforced.

Anonymous said...

I have been a follower of this blog for the last year. My child attends a nearby school district who also does not have a champion for its advanced learners. I worry about how to help my child embrace learning as an adventure and as a life-long passion when we have school systems who teach to predetermined standards (or who teach to the norm) and/or view the education process like it has finite boundaries that have "tied their hands." With this kind of attitude seemingly pervasive in public school districts today, parents SHOULD be concerned that their gifted students aren't reaching their optimal learning in those classrooms. Parents SHOULD look out for signs of disengagement and underachievement in their kids, which are some of the risks of not having the best academic match in place for them.

I am not a teacher myself, but I try to provide materials and opportunities for my student outside of school, and frankly, it has been out of necessity. I know that not every family can provide those, and perhaps that it is another reason why we should be closely looking at the effectiveness of gifted programs in a public school setting, particularly since districts now need to focus on equity issues relating to their underserved populations. While I have compassion for those teachers who try to make a difference each day for our advanced learners
in their classrooms, I know that the teachers are challenged by classroom size, lack of time for collaboration with other teachers, and a lack of professional development opportunities. Perhaps some of which can be helped if we had a true gifted "champion" to guide our way. . .

Anonymous said...

I spent a lot of years supplementing with homeschooling outside of public school hours. Sometimes my students were in HCC (back then, APP) and sometimes not. Mainly what I taught at home was how to extract an education from a school that is not interested in helping you get the education you probably want. How to put up with teachers who try to put a ceiling on your learning. How to try to make effective use of the time of dedicated teachers who try to find ways to really help you while dealing with all the other students and the bureaucratic nonsense. How to take responsibility for your own learning even when the school doesn't take responsibility for its part of the job.

The education is out there and it is possible to rip some of it out of a school that doesn't want to give it to you. I'm not an expert in doing that but I can still do better than some of the schools my students attended.


Anonymous said...


Very well said. That's exactly what I'm doing with my kids currently in 5th and 9th grade. That applies whether your child is HCC or not. (I've got one of each).

I can say 1000% that ALO is in name only for my 5th grader, and his pathway Middle School has already come out and said if he needs acceleration in math, that will have to be outside of school. They don't do that anymore. We are in a position to provide that, but what about families with capable kids who aren't? So infuriating.

QA Parent

Anonymous said...

"So long as Seattle Public Schools remains a Standards-based learning system, students outside of HCC will not be supported in their academic work beyond Grade Level Standards."

I agree with Charlie's entire comment.

Our most overt example of this so far came at our fall conference this year, with a teacher who is dedicated, smart, intuitive and effective. We were told that our second grader wasn't assessed in reading because she had already reached an early fourth grade reading level in her first grade assessment, and therefore "had reached the top of the mountain and should just enjoy the view" in second grade. I appreciated the honesty that there would be no instruction at her reading level this year (whatever it may be, since she wasn't assessed). With our older child, now in HCC, no one was that honest about it.

ALO School Parent

Anonymous said...

@ Charlie, you said: "So long as Seattle Public Schools remains a Standards-based learning system, students outside of HCC will not be supported in their academic work beyond Grade Level Standards. Certainly not reliably and probably not at all - despite the fact that District policy requires it."

Are you sure that students actually IN HCC are supported in academic work beyond grade level standards? The recent HC services evaluation suggests that this IS happening at Cascadia, although not the "2 years ahead" that most people seem to think is the case. From the report: HC students, like all students in the District, are expected to make one year’s growth in each academic year. The difference is, that they are making this growth based on an acceleration of between one and two years above their grade level. The evidence of this is submitted to OSPI each year using individual students’ redacted progress reports. The progress report for 3rd grade students at Cascadia show that they are being evaluated at 4th grade standards in ELA, and at 5th grade standards in math.

Does the same thing happen at other HCC elementary school sites? Does it happen at the middle school level? (In our experience, no.) Are high school HCC students supported in work beyond grade level standards? It's hard to believe "honors for all" classes focus on higher than grade level standards, when many students in the class enter significantly below grade level.

Something "Support needed" said really hit me. If 5-7 students per class need more than this HCC teacher can provide, that's probably about 20%. One in five! Is that really the state of our HCC program? If so, that's a problem. I wonder if that 20% is a good estimate of the percentage of HCC students who aren't sufficiently challenged by the "program"?

I took a peek at climate survey results, since SPS is using those to help make the case that HC services ARE effective. From the climate survey, the lowest scores in the "Pedagogical Effectiveness" category are consistently for this important item:

My teacher gives me new challenges if the work in class is too easy.

Districtwide for elementary schools, 62% responded favorably (agree or strongly agree). At Cascadia, however, only 56% responded positively (17% disagreed or strongly disagreed; the rest were neutral). At TM, only 50% responded favorably (21% disagreed). Ugh.

For middle schools, the districtwide average is even lower, with only 47% responding positively. At Hamilton, which is about half HCC, the percentage was a little lower, only 43% favorable. JAMS was 46%. WMS was lowest at 41% favorable. Sad!

What about high school? Districtwide, only 38% agreed. At Garfield, only 32% did.

Notice the trend? While providing additional challenges to students who need it seems to be a problem districtwide, it seems to be particularly an issue at HCC schools. People often complain that HCC students get something special or better than what others get, but in terms of providing sufficient academic challenge to students who are ready for more, that does not seem to be the case. HCC sites don't look very good in this area.

Data seeker

Anonymous said...

To summarize, a school is unlikely to provide advanced learning, so families provide it outside of school, perhaps even if their child is in HCC. The district looks at test results and, hey, the kids are doing all right. Why bother creating a curriculum or something like that? And so on it goes year after year.

While I agree students need to learn how to take charge of their learning, it's exhausting to constantly be filling in for district deficiencies. Try teaching yourself high school chemistry when the teacher doesn't seem up to the job. At a certain point, a students thinks, "Why bother going to school? I'm just teaching myself anyway. It'd be easier to sit and read the book or watch Khan Academy than waste my time in class." It would be one thing if you were in a rural district which truly had limited options, but this is a large district with no excuse for not offering a basic program of advanced coursework, K-12.

just tired

Charlie Mas said...

Advanced learning is a lot more than HCC. In fact, most of it is outside of HCC.

Advanced learners are any student working beyond grade level. And EVERY student experiences that at some time or another. Seriously. At one time or another EVERY student is an advanced learner, and there is a large number of students - outside of HCC - who spend the bulk of their school time as advanced learners.

Standards-based education intentionally chooses NOT to serve them. Oh, yes, in theory the Standards are a floor, and there is lip service paid to the idea of ALOs (whatever that is), we will sometimes see "walk to math" or "small learning groups", but all of these have hard caps on them to maintain horizontal and vertical alignment.

Here's a quote from the South Shore K-8 CSIP:
"To strengthen the core academic program of the school we use studios in elementary classrooms to ensure fidelity of implementation and are trying to develop a sense of urgency taking place across all grade levels (which means that instruction looks similar from class to class)."

They are proud of the fact that they only teach to grade level.

Remember how all of the CSIPs were supposed to include descriptions of how the school would serve advanced learners? The schools wrote their CSIPs - supposedly following the rules. The CSIPs were all reviewed by the Executive Directors of Schools for compliance with the requirements. Mr. Starosky also reviewed them and confirmed that they contained all of the required elements. Then I flipped through them and found that 42 of them - nearly half - made no mention of services for advanced learners. After a quick bunch of re-writes and a second review by the Executive Directors of Schools, Mr. Starosky announced to the public and the Board that now they all addressed advanced learners. Only they didn't. There were still about fifteen that had not made any changes. Even now, a month later, there is no description of services for advanced learners at Roxhill, South Shore, Thornton Creek, Van Asselt, Washington Middle School (a Spectrum site and an HCC site), and Madison Middle School (also a Spectrum and HCC site).

Where's the accountability? There is none. For there to be accountability somebody would have to care and no one does.

And, to be clear, the descriptions of services for ELL students and students with disabilities that are also supposed to be in CSIPs are just as absent.

Standards-based education is about standardization. Non-standard instruction - whether it be for English language learners, students who need specific supports, or students working beyond standards - is excluded from the effort.

Business Pressure said...

As Seattle continues to pull in workers for brain-intensive jobs, business leaders and companies should pressure Seattle Public Schools to educate advanced learners. Couldn't we start some kind of organized campaign to get business leaders and corporate interests and state government to push for advanced learning?

Many parents are providing advanced learning instruction to their own children outside of school because the schools refuse to educate these kids. Some families aren't in a position to provide that and advanced learners from these families are the greatest losers from the current setup. I don't see how that's not an important equity issue for SPS.

Greenwoody said...

Business Pressure, the business leaders don't care. Their plan is to privatize the schools so they can personally get rich. Then they will set up a few private schools (aka charters) that serve advanced learners. This is what has happened in DC and a few other cities. Business leaders aren't coming to save us.

Sadly, neither is the school board, so it looks like we might need another round of changes this fall...

Anonymous said...

What is going on with Lakeside's plan for a "microschool," scheduled to open 2018 (one year prior to the opening of Lincoln)?


Anonymous said...

A quick search indicates Lakeside is currently hiring for Director of the new school.


Anonymous said...

@ Charlie says "Advanced learners are any student working beyond grade level. And EVERY student experiences that at some time or another. Seriously. At one time or another EVERY student is an advanced learner, and there is a large number of students - outside of HCC - who spend the bulk of their school time as advanced learners."

I look forward to hearing the evidence that will support these statements.

Sounds a lot like Lake Wobegon, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."


Lynn said...


Maybe you don't realize just how low the grade level standards are now. That claim isn't hard to believe at all.

Anonymous said...

@QA Parent,

Honestly, if your kid is headed to McClure, you are better off meeting his math needs at home or online. I think if McClure had come closer to meeting our kid's needs, we might not have home schooled math, and that home schooling/online math has really benefitted our child, now in HS.

Ex Mc

Anonymous said...

Ex Mc

Yes - that's our situation and we know we are on our own. McClure won't let him work ahead. Working out our plans now - if private schools comes through with financial aid, we're out of SPS.

QA Parent

Anonymous said...

@ QA Parent, if private school financial aid doesn't come through, at least know that by homeschooling math you'll be doing your chid a big favor. Even if McClure did let your kid work ahead, it wouldn't necessarily make it a good math education. Many kids would be better off learning math outside of SPS. Anyone who's ever had their kid take a quality outside math class can tell you what a difference it was...


Anonymous said...

If you have a student with a real aptitude for math then there is no programmatic offering in the district that is better than pathetic. Especially the offerings in HCC are pathetic for these students. There are some excellent math teachers scattered around the district who are willing to help you out, but that is not the same as a program.


Anonymous said...

And where do you find a quality outside math class besides online?

Fix AL

Anonymous said...

I'm hurt by this notion that SPS teachers are choosing not to provide advanced work, like it's their mission to deny students opportunities for growth. Do you realize that SPS hasn't provided a reading curriculum to its teachers for 16 years? That many (most) teachers are buying what they do use with their own money? That it's a lot of work (and money) to create curriculum for one grade, let alone several? That it takes time (and resources) we don't have to teach multiple grade levels at once?

MIF is one of the most difficult math programs to differentiate with I have ever used. The advanced MIF materials are so poorly connected to the unit, even my brightest students can't use them without a lot of one-to-one coaching. I spent 2 full days in my classroom this week revamping how I will teach math for the rest of the year. I spent over $150 on materials. Beginning Monday I plan to teach 3 separate math lessons each day, geared toward student need. I had to create/make games to keep 2/3 of the class engaged in meaningful activities while I work with a small group. This wasn't just two days of work. I will now need to plan 15 math lessons per week instead of 5 (and create the games to match). These comments are making me wish I hadn't put in this much effort. This is not sustainable for most, nor should it be the expectation.

Charlie Mas said...

Mark wonders about the validity of the statement that, at some time or another, every student is working beyond standards.

Perhaps the reason you doubt the statement is because you don't understand it. I'll give you some examples:

1) Chris is general education student who is usually works at grade level in math. On Monday the class starts a new math unit and the teacher introduces a new concept to the class. Chris understands the concept the second time the teacher explains it. Since the teacher is going to review the concept three more times that day, Chris is, in that moment, an advanced learner.

2) Pat is a general education student who usually works below grade level in reading. Pat has a special interest in Aesop's fables. Pat has a book of Aesop's fables at home and has re-read the book dozens of times and talked about the stories with family members. Today the class reads the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Pat already knows the story, knows the moral, understands the allegory, and can apply it in various contexts. At that moment, Pat is an advanced learner.

3) Jamie is a general education student who usually works beyond grade level in reading, writing, and math. Jamie was not tested for HCC because Jamie's family isn't interested in having Jamie change schools. Jamie is regularly the strongest student in the class and either already knows the content of the lesson or quickly learns it before the rest of the class and sees how the lesson could be applied in other contexts. Jamie is an advanced learner for most of the day every day at school.

This isn't Lake Woebegone. Everybody is good at something. Everybody has an area of interest that they know a lot about. Everybody has a day when they are the best. Kids are in school for six hours a day, 180 days a year, for thirteen years. That's over 14,000 hours when they have the opportunity to be good at something. Nearly all of them have such a moment. I don't see how you can doubt it.

Charlie Mas said...

We are not well-served by narrow definitions of advanced learner.

I don't even like using the term anymore. I find it more effective to say "students working beyond Standards". I prefer that language because

* It doesn't require any testing to qualify
* There is no need to debate whether the situation is real or not
* It's about performance instead of potential
* It includes nearly every student at one time or another
* It keeps the focus on the fact that the child is a student
* It keeps the discussion within the context of Standards
* It reminds people that the students are working
* It doesn't smack of elitism

not mc-t said...

the district is pushing al into the ashbin as fast as they can.

is that right? { } is that wrong? { } never asked? { }.

i do know that sps dt does not support three layers. "al office " wants spectrum gone. this is something that i personally dance around as i post. there are more advocates to spectrum programs then hc programs. only hc is guaranteed by state law. pressure hits and then spectrum is beaten down ((wms has no spectrum or hc instruction based on their plan to the district - they have both. - thanks cm)) if they plaid their cards right they would be expanding spectrum at wms. they didn't they hired someone that cares nothing about al including hcc.

i could talk about the glass is half empty or half full but there is no glass. sps dt really are about career advancement or retirement (so long nyland) and not the kids and they even forgot the glass. no accountability either:

=data is sent to news outlets with 5k kid's medical information. who at sps was fired? no one!

=tm starts a program without prior approval to change a service against sup's recs and who is fired? no one!

=garfield does honors for none and then switches it to honors for all and who is fired? no one!

=school plans devoid of plans for hc kids (including pw schools) and who is fired? no one!

it is lawless and it is wrong. i am beyond the concern bubble for all of this. i have put in my 20+ kid years of app/hcc but when i see something torn apart like michael tolley has torn app / hcc apart then i have to speak up.

no caps

Anonymous said...

@TC - Thanks so much for all of the hard work you put in to adapting MIF and providing additional curriculum development. It's a challenge to balance the needs of multiple learners in the class room and I appreciate your efforts.

I really dislike the unrelenting negative and entitled tone of most of the commentators on this blog in regards to SPS and its teachers. This attitude undercuts your kids more than you know. -CapHill Parent

Anonymous said...

Shoreline is an example of a district that screens all K unless parents opt out. Their Hicap demographics can be found here on pages 10-12:

Shoreline is a diverse district with several Title 1 schools and ELL. From just glancing at the numbers it appears that minorities identified as Hicap choose to stay in their home schools rather than join the self-contained cohorts. Shoreline is currently working to serve those students better in their home schools. The opposite of what Seattle is doing.

Anonymous said... friend who works at a SPS and has a mixed race child just moved to shoreline for the better equity based approach to education and advanced learning faith in SPS.

Fix AL

Anonymous said...

I would donate a portion of my PTA money to an advanced learning/hicap program in a title I school so kids from marginalized communities don't have to leave their neighborhood to access rigorous and interesting curriculum. But there is no curriculum and teachers are overwhelmed with the students who are so far behind. I hope the folks in Olympia will fight hard to keep small class sizes and improve funding for teacher training and supports.

Fix AL

Anonymous said...

@TC, I don't think most posters are suggesting teachers don't provide advanced work out of spite of because "it's their mission to deny students opportunities for growth."* Parents appreciate the heroic efforts on the part of some teachers to serve all/most kids well, although we recognize--and I think you would agree--that not all teachers are willing or able to go that extra mile (or more like those extra 20 miles).

But your comments--based on the reality teachers face in the classroom--support the very stories you're complaining about. Teachers don't get the support they need...and thus often aren't able to provide advanced work. To acknowledge that reality does not make it the teachers' fault. It's the fault of the district. The things you mentioned as reasons teachers have trouble providing advanced work (e.g., no reading curriculum for 16 yrs, having to spend own money on material, the need for extensive and time-consuming differentiation in the absence of differentiation-supporting curricula and materials) are all district-level problems. Parents likely agree with you that what you are doing is not sustainable and should not be expected. That does not mean, however, that advanced learners and their families should not expect to be served appropriately--it just means that the district should figure out a more sustainable way to do so.

Parents are going to speak up when their school or district is not serving their child well, and I'm not sure why the comments here make you regret your efforts to serve all your students to the best of your ability. I'm sure any "complaints" were not directed at your teaching specifically, and if you're doing all you say, you probably have a lot of happy families who can share their appreciation with you personally.


*That said, there are clearly some teachers who DO want to deny growth opportunities for students--teachers who tell parents they can't serve their kid and they should go elsewhere; teachers who deny the existence of academic giftedness as a concept; teachers who actively fight for detracking and the elimination of access to more advanced classes; etc.

Melissa Westbrook said...

1) Thank you, TC, for speaking up. I think what you hear is more frustration from parents than blame to teachers (with the teacher being the obvious solution to many parents). Naturally, teachers have far less control than many parents know especially around curriculum. And, if teachers are not supported in trying to differentiate curriculum, then the job is that much harder.

2) Thank you, Charlie, for that last comment with definitions. Makes a lot of good sense.

3) Fix AL, I think the bloom is off the rose for class size. The only commitment that the GOP will make is for K-3 which is already in place. They want to repeal 1351 in their McCleary funding bill and I believe it will stick. I don't think that the Dems want to fight that battle any longer.

There will be no lower class sizes past 4th grade unless your child somehow lucks out (meaning, not by fiat or design).

Lastly, this blog exists to include the voices of ALL parents. And every single parents has the right to advocate for their child - no matter where they live, no matter their income, no matter where their child is on the academic spectrum.

Anonymous said...

I hear people complain and state they want to "go private" etc. What makes people think majority of private schools are any better at serving diverse groups of students including advanced learners? Except for schools that have large amounts of advanced learners like Lakeside or are specifically designed only for gifted like Evergreen K-8, my guess is that there is no difference. Likely challenges would be the same.
- HG

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the difference at private schools, especially at the high school level, is they generally value and celebrate students working at an advanced level. They want high achieving, hard working students. If a student wants to take a lot of AP courses, great! Private high schools are judged on their AP pass rates, graduation rates, and college acceptance rates. While not all may be able to serve the outliers among the HCC cohort (or students with special needs), they generally provide a challenging, well planned college-prep curriculum with well equipped science labs and carefully selected class texts (that students are expected to purchase).

I appreciate hearing a teacher's perspective and would agree the district is not providing enough support for teachers, either through curriculum support or materials purchases. SPS operates on the belief that standards are the curriculum, when standards are just the starting point. Unfortunately, some teachers and administrators do want to deny growth opportunities for students, or disparage them for being identified HCC/AL. It's real, it happens, and such sentiment is probably a big driver for those who go private.

just tired

Charlie Mas said...

Please take a moment and consider these two statements.

First, the statement by TC about how hard it is for a teacher to provide any kind of differentiated instruction for students.

Second, the blithe claims in school CSIPs about how they serve advanced learners by differentiating instruction so all students can learn at their own level.

These two statements are irreconcilable.

I don't know where TC teaches, but I would encourage TC to check the school's CSIP and share with us the school's claim about how it serves advanced learners. Then I would like TC to tell us if there is any truth to the claim.

Outsider said...

"Have you ever tried to complain that the classwork is too easy for your child? How effective was that complaint? From the beginning to the end, the teacher can tell the parents to go screw. Even if the principal makes sympathetic sounds, there is nothing the principal can do. Anyway, the principal is also likely to tell you to go screw. And where does that leave you? Nowhere. They have all of the power and the authority and the student family has none. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis. You are utterly powerless to have any influence over your child's education. Nothing will happen unless the teacher chooses to do it."

Says the same Charlie who thinks vouchers are silly.

Think of how much stress would be taken off families if everyone had access to vouchers and could make arrangements directly with teachers or schools whose only loyalty was to their students and their families. I don't mean vouchers which can only be used at crony capitalist for-profit charter schools. That's worthless. I mean vouchers you can take to any licensed teacher or accredited school, roughly like Medicare pays any licensed physician or accredited hospital.

Every year the public schools pass further through the identity politics looking glass. It's time to admit that the situation will never get better and is bound to get worse. Time to hold your nose and look for an alliance with Betsy DeVos and her religious cohorts who also want out. Assemble a large enough coalition of families who want out, and set the people free.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Outsider, if you think that private schools have you talking directly with children any more than public schools do, I'd like to know what school that is. My friends who went private said their interactions with teachers were good but teachers never really changed anything they did.

I think the benefit to parents -across the board - is the smaller class size. The belief that the teacher will know your child and be able to give more personalized attention.

Vouchers are opening the door to a free-for-all systems where, once again, parents who have the means and knowledge can use them well.

As well, for most of us (and I say this with confidence), do not want our tax dollars going to religious schools.

I do not need to make any sort of alliance with DeVos on this point.

Outsider said...

Melissa, I know you will never come around. I am just saying to other parents who are gradually realizing that the public schools offer no hope: if you want out, stop judging other families' reasons for wanting out. Accept them as allies and get the people free.

I predict the breakup of public schools is inevitable for reasons other than AL, but certainly AL parents could be part of the alliance that makes it happen sooner rather than later. And it's important to get out ahead of the crony capitalist looters who will try to drain all the resources into their own pockets. Elements of a good future system might be:

1) Separate physical management of school buildings from school administration. Somewhat like the way the UK separated managing the track and running the trains in their rail system. Trish Dziko seems to have advocated something like this, which would enable her to quickly expand her educational model. The likes of Nyland and Tolley would have no say in the matter; only educators and parents.

2) Allow licensed teachers to practice solo or form group practice, same as doctors and dentists. No administrative overhead at all if they don't feel a need for it and can sell parents on their services.

3) Create a clawback formula, such that if the cost of the school is greater than the amount of the voucher, the voucher is progressively reduced. Students who attend gold-plated private schools wouldn't get any public money.

Usually voucher schemes are seen as anti-teacher because they are stacked in favor of for-profit charter schools, which are bad places to work. But done right, a voucher system is very pro-teacher. It sets them free along with students and families. We have enough experience to know that central admin is a bureaucratic and ideological black hole which sucks value out of the system and crushes the spirit of teachers and parents and adds little or no value. Set the people free.

Watching said...

There are two members of the school board that strongly support advanced learning. Two board members support full inclusion. I'm not sure where the other board member's position.

To say that the entire board does not support advanced learning is false.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Outsider, I think you need a new moniker, like Doris Day. You really think that breaking up the public education system in this country will result in better outcomes for more students and no one will profit? Sure.

Practice solo where? It's not like renting a chair at the hair salon. And parents have time to ferret out teachers and not just schools?

As for #3, I'd bet that would be proven illegal because they are public dollars that could be used for any school. You can't say "use for some schools but not all."

Actually, charter schools very much fear vouchers so no, I don't think they will be big supporters. That's one reason why ed reformers had mixed emotions on DeVos - she likes charters AND vouchers.

I myself have not said the Board doesn't support Advanced Learning; they just drag their feet. Some fear speaking out because of backlash.

Anonymous said...

NY Times article on three recent studies on voucher efficacy:


z said...

Watching said: There are two members of the school board that strongly support advanced learning. Two board members support full inclusion. I'm not sure where the other board member's position.

I'm not sure I agree. I'd say I know one that strongly supports the existing AL model, a couple more that kinda sorta support it, one who strongly supports inclusion (and despises AL), one who supports inclusion but is hard to read on support for AL in that context. That leaves a couple who don't seem to care much at all.

But has any of this support helped at all when individual buildings made structural changes to their AL programs without oversight or transparency? Honors for All/None, blended SS, AP course limits, continued growth and splits, even the initial Spectrum destruction was done building-by-building by overreaching principals until it was far enough along that central could kill it.

Why does the board not seem to care (or have authority) over program integrity?

Anonymous said...

z is right - I don't see any evidence that we have school board members who care much about supporting advanced learning. They may personally do like AL, but they haven't actually done a damn thing about it. Tolley knows he can destroy these programs whenever he wants to because the board absolutely refuses to ever do anything about the culture of lawlessness at the JSCEE. He personally knows it doesn't matter what the board wants or thinks because they will never demand anyone be fired, will never slash funding for administrator positions, will never fire Nyland (hell, they voted to give him a raise).

This includes Sue Peters, by the way, who has been totally AWOL when it comes to ending the culture of lawlessness. If she wants to get re-elected this year she had better wake up and do something about that right now. Otherwise she's going to find her support is a lot softer than she thinks it is.


Anonymous said...

I really think Business Pressure hit the nail on the head further up the string. By refusing to provide an HCC curriculum the district identifies and retains only those students whose parents have had the time and money to provide AL learning opportunities outside of school. Those are certainly the only parents willing to stay in HCC and fulfill the HCC mirage. We actually had to step up our outside learning and support when our daughter entered HCC because the classroom work was pretty minimal. There will never be equity until the district is willing to provide AL services and curriculum. I have been amazed and mystified at why so many people are clamoring for equity within the HCC program - what are you agitating for??? There is nothing within that program. We know that from bitter personal experience. We only joined HCC because the HCC pathway school was more geographically convenient for us.


Anonymous said...

Oh and another thing......the SPS will NEVER provide HCC/AL curriculum. They have had at least a couple of decades to solidify a curriculum. It is too hard for them because it involves respecting teacher professionalism and training and allowing teachers to specialize in the pathways they are interested in pursuing. Some teachers are especially interested in AL teaching, some teachers, in turn, are interested and skilled in fulfilling the needs of other struggling student populations. The district, in contrast, wants to employ teachers as trained monkeys that they can slot into any teaching position that opens up. They prefer to run the district like a fast food franchise, capitalizing on untrained workers that they can assign to any job. This is my opinion based directly on statements from the central district administrators at PTA meetings and also in email correspondence.


Anonymous said...

"HCC mirage"

Best description yet. Why do families stay? Once you're on the pathway, 6-8 or 9-12, it's difficult to just say, we're jumping ship. If you miss the window for 6th or 9th grade entry at private schools (before you know what you've gotten into), spots at private schools are few and far between. Missing the fall testing window means two years before you could be enrolled elsewhere (kind of like missing AL testing). It's not so easy to just go somewhere else, even if you want to switch schools within SPS. So you make do.


Samantha T. said...

One thing I think would help public schools is to reconceive how districts are organized. Currently, too much power is held by a bureaucracy that operates with impunity and no meaningful transparency. The district often does exactly the opposite of what parents want (eg do a survey to find out what day early release should be but ignore it), and the district often fights battles there is no sense in fighting (eg why not just let schools choose their own textbooks if they dislike the district provided ones, seriously what harm can come from letting educators choose their own materials?). Our school board is also flaccid, not because of its members particularly but because of the powers the body has.

A lot of the problems in this district arise structurally from how insulated decision-makers are from both the public and from parents. There is also essentially zero competent news coverage of schools issues in the local media (apart from this blog). What if that insulation were thinned or made to disappear?

Just thinking out of the box, but what about creating PTA-like bodies at each school with certain hiring and policy-setting powers? What about sending an elected parent/public and faculty delegate from a rotating subset of the schools to an annual general assembly with certain strong policy-setting or decision-making powers, or give them the power to remove staff, senior management, or superintendents from votes of no-confidence? Or just redesign the school board itself to give it strong supervisory powers with teeth to enforce those policies. Again, just brainstorming (these are not necessarily serious proposals). In other countries, many of the powers we put in a superintendent locally are held by individual principals if not teachers themselves. It just seems like we are fighting losing battles because of structural defects in how the district is organized. There are no true checks and balances, and "staff" has all the power with minimal oversight.

David said...

I'd like to focus on what can be done. What to do? Does anything matter?

I've spent a lot of effort trying to get people on the school board. Did that matter? It doesn't seem to. Every time we get someone who looks good on to the school board, they lose their spine and stop trying to make changes.

I've spent a lot of time trying to talk about what could change with people. Does that matter? We talk, but all the control lies with administration, and they do nothing, over and over again.

I've spent a lot of time trying to help in classroom. Does that matter? It's just one class for one year, not dealing with any of systemic problems.

In the end, I think the only thing that matters in the short-term is teachers, and in the long-term is the superintendent and school board. So, helping our schools matters, and trying to get good people on the school board matters. But it feels like such a long game. Anyone have ideas on how to speed things up?

Watching said...


Fire Nyland, Cliff? Are you wanting to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Golden Parachute?

I do agree that site based management is a problem. It seems to me that they need full board support for advanced learning which does not exist.

You can't ignore community support for de-tracking, either.

I also disagree about your assertions regarding President Peters.

Anonymous said...

Site-based management doesn't mean--or doesn't HAVE to mean--there are no controls. I don't understand why the district can't tell principals and teachers "you need to provide x, y and z; exactly how you do it is up to you, but these are the basic requirements, as well as some handy guidelines you may wish to follow." Then the requirements need to be clear and specific enough that they are enforceable.

Surely the district doesn't suggest that schools can do whatever they want re: GE, such as not teaching the standards or not giving the tests. Surely the district doesn't suggest schools can opt out of serving ELL or FRL or special ed student section, or that the school can refuse, as a policy, to provide the services to which these students are entitled. Surely principals can't refuse to evaluate their staffs. So there ARE requirements, right? It's not ALL up to the whims of principals and teachers. We have plenty of district-level policies and procedures. For the life of me I don't understand why the district feels so powerless to exert any authority over highly capable services and advanced learning programs. Or is it just that they don't WANT to?


Anonymous said...

They don't care. They want to detrack, but they don't have the money to do it well or even sort of well, so they keep HCC and detrack the rest and just make HCC a dog of the District and region.

Interesting read: Smartest Kids in the World. Compares US, Korea, Finland, Poland education systems and cultures. I disagree with the author on many points, but she had some excellent observations. If you also woke up in a snow globe, you might have time for a good book today.

I like our current Board, and let us not forget the range of interests and needs they represent. They work hard, I give them props...all of them.

Now that the SAP is sorted out, they need to sink their teeth into MTSS and curriculum delivery discrepancies at our schools.

Fix AL

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Site-based management doesn't mean--or doesn't HAVE to mean--there are no controls. I don't understand why the district can't tell principals and teachers "you need to provide x, y and z; exactly how you do it is up to you, but these are the basic requirements, as well as some handy guidelines you may wish to follow." Then the requirements need to be clear and specific enough that they are enforceable."

Absolutely true and I've said similar things to the Board. I cannot understand how this seeming free-for-all that principals now enjoy is okay with the Board.

David, I think this will be a slow week for speaking to the board. Sign up today and go and tell them. If enough AL parents did this on a consistent basis, it would be harder for the Board to look away.