Sunday, December 03, 2006

Today's editorial in Times

The Times has yet another Sunday editorial about Seattle schools, Closing Seattle's Gap through Innovation .

It's actually kind of funny in its ignorance. It states this:
"So what to do about this nagging dilemma? Turns out, according to Seattle's CAO Carla Santorno, eveything educators need to know about closing the gap they already know. At Montlake, Maple, Van Asselt and Loyal elementary schools and a K-8 called The New School, the gap has narrowed or been eliminated."

Okay, Montlake is a small, white, relatively well-off school. They have paid for tutoring for every student who needs it. They have no achievement gap; good for them! Van Asselt is trying teaching to the top, with great results, but have had to put major money from the budget into tutoring (so something in their budget probably had to go). I don't even know what Loyal is; might be Loyal Heights but I don't recall it having stellar WASL scores. And the New School? It's about a 1/3 privately funded by The New School Foundation with kids getting a "whole student" approach with yoga and health care and tutoring. Yes, indeed, kids can do better if all their needs are met but where's the money? (Sadly, I already had a letter printed in today's Times or I would write and call them on this.)

Everything educators need to know? Not even close. There are things they suspect will help (more parental involvement and less tv/video), smaller classes with good teachers and tutoring for kids who need it. But do they have a slam dunk on the methodology? I don't think so.

And they end with their usual slam against the district/Board that the district doesn't get innovation and in specific, why aren't they supporting the TAF Academy.

On a related note, I attended the joint City Council/School Board meeting on Friday. I had wanted to speak to them about BEX III (note to self; at City Council meetings, you only get 2 minutes). They were to discuss SPS WASL scores and get a briefing on Washington Learns. I could only stay for the WASL discussion which was very good. (The Council members in attendance were Jean Godden, Peter Steinbruck, David Della, Richard Conlin and Sally Clark. Board members were Michael DeBell, Brita, Cheryl Chow and Irene Stewart.)

The district had a really good person, Ramona Pierson, who gave the overview and answered questions. She had great handout. The main point, that Raj said they needed to get out, is that the district is making steady progress and, as Danny Westneat pointed out, is doing better than many other local districts.

Raj went over the math strategy; adopting a new middle school curriculum, looking to the state for whatever math curriculum they decide on, the Pathways program for struggling students, and training teachers better. They explained about retaining 1300 sophomores as freshman. It turns out that only 500 ended up retained. Those students ended up in Pathways with evening classes, double math classes and, usually, no electives because of the need to get the math done.

Ms. Pierson was candid in her view about the math WASL scores in Seattle. One councilperson asked about the large difference between 4th and 7th grade versus the smaller change between 7th and 10th. She said she thought it was more about the test itself than anything in how it is being taught. (This is a great question. Are Washington state/Seattle kids really that bad at math? Is it teaching? Or could it be the test?)

There was some discussion about class size. Ramona said yes, those schools with smaller class sizes did do beter. Peter Steinbruck chimed in that he had helped out in his son's 5th grade class for a writing exercise and said the teacher really needed the help at a class size of about 28. The point was made that it is much more the student/teacher ratio than class size. Apparently Mercer Island has small class sizes and, when they get larger, they bring in someone else. I think if the district can't do smaller class sizes if we got more state funding we could have, maybe, two teachers' aides per school who go to classes during specific times (say, writing or math) to get that ratio down and more help to kids who struggle. Counting on parents to come in isn't reliable or realistic.


Anonymous said...

Melissa, again thank you for the analysis and information from the meetings.

I want to add a few things about the small class size issue. Now my memories of the studies and aftermath are limited, this again is from Children As Pawns.

The class size study was done in Tennessee with randomization of teachers and students. Some got small classes, some got large classes (30 kids?) and a full time aide. The small classes with one teacher did better. And to answer a question, this was a K-3 study, the idea being if you give kids a strong foundation, larger class sizes for older kids would not be as detrimental. (at least that's the way I remember it.)

I do remember very well that California jumped on the conclusion. However the only part they replicated was small class size. What happened? Well all of a sudden there were openings for twice as many elementary school teachers. They ended up with new, poorly trained teachers concentrating in the low performing schools. Since they could not hire enough teachers, not all were able to get small classes. There was no attempt at leveling the schools by moving more experienced teachers. In fact, this mandate opened positions in higher performing schools which got snatched up by guess who --- the experienced teachers already in the lower performing schools.

A costly disaster.

Anonymous said...

I have seen several times that you are against the levy, but I haven't read your rationale for your opposition. Could you post a separate post with your reasoning?
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

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