Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Story in the Times

There was one of those articles without news in the Times today. The closest thing to news in this story is the suggestion that the District will announce changes in gifted and Special education this spring. Of course, it was also news to me that Director Martin-Morris thinks that the district has been spending a lot of time on gifted kids.

Director DeBell says that the Board is looking for ways to add more Montessori programs and replicate foreign language immersion programs. I find that interesting because it would appear to be outside the Board's charge. Program Placement is the Superintendent's job and the Board is supposed to keep their noses out of the Superintendent's business.

It's very weird to see the Times switch - so obviously - from a loud and vocal detractor of our public schools to a public school booster.

Here's a link to the story: Seattle School Board turns its attention to middle-class families

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oh Those West Seattlites!

Boy, those West Seattle folks are a feisty bunch. Watching the Board meeting last night (in the comfort of my own home, very civilized) was inspiring. Whether you agree or disagree with their stand (and these were folks against the Denny/Sealth plan for varying reasons), they were certainly articulate and made good points. There were teachers, community members and students. One, a cheerleader, certainly earned points for being direct and not the least intimidated by public speaking.

Their reasoning for not supporting the plan?
  • students think mixing high school boys with middle school girls is a bad idea (and this from a boy)
  • Sealth feeling that they are not being treated like other high schools (i.e. West Seattle, Roosevelt, Ballard, etc.), that they are going to lose space and are basically getting very little out of the deal. Some said they'd be willing to wait for funds for their renovation.
  • community members feeling shut out by Facilities staff and wondering why the district won't talk to them (meaning, feeling kind of suspicious about being held at arm's length)
  • lack of an explanation of how a joint campus advances academics which is supposed to be the driver in facilities
Steve Sundquist and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson both took pains to say they are listening, will respond, and there will be a Board work session on this issue before the Jan. 9th meeting. (Although, at work sessions there are no public comments allowed; it's just to hear whatever staff has to say and the Board working it through.) They also both said the Board does have the authority to change the project "if they see the need".

This from the West Seattle blog:

Susan Harmon from the Westwood Neighborhood Council, speaking during the public-comment period, asked the board to delay Denny-Sealth votes until after a meeting WNC is working to organize for late January or early February to examine both the potential impacts of the shared high school/middle school campus concept, and the future of the current Denny land if the project proceeds as currently planned."

I'm sure this request puts the Facilities staff in a knot. It's interesting that so many different people feel like this project was never clearly presented or discussed and now, once again, it's rush, rush, rush by Facilities.

I did let a few of these folks know about what they may be facing in trying to be heard. I was looking at the BEX II and III meeting minutes and found this when they were talking about Hamilton* and the problems with the neighbors:

"The District may engage in mediation with Parks and the activists as long as it’s crafted in a way that doesn’t require consensus. Steve suggests calling it a “facilitated conversation”. The term “mediation” sets up expectations and rules."

Steve is Steve Goldblatt a member of BEX II committee(not a staff member) but staff seemed to concur. I'd guess that lets out compromise and consensus as well.

*Hamilton did come up last night. It turns out the City Examiner turned down the district's proposed placement of the Hamilton gym and it is being revamped in a different direction.

Harium Martin-Morris Blog

One of our newest Board members has a blog. It will be interesting to see as he gets busier if he can keep it up but good for him for making the effort. I hope that the new Board members will try to have regular community meetings as Mary Bass does and as Brita Butler-Wall and Sally Soriano did. It was great to be able to go somewhere in your region and be able to talk to your director.

FYI -Enrolling in SPS

This information appeared in the Seattle Times this morning:

"Open enrollment in Seattle Public Schools for the 2008-09 school year is scheduled from Jan. 22-Feb. 29. During this period, families may register and apply for school for children entering kindergarten in September 2008; for students advancing from elementary to middle school or from middle to high school; for any other students who wish to change schools; or for students who will be new to the district in September.

Students who apply during open enrollment will receive priority assignment for September 2008. Information needed to apply is available at enrollment-service centers or online at www.seattleschools.org/area/eso/story.dxml.

To assist in enrollment, an All-City Kindergarten and Middle School Fair is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 12 at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence, 2445 Third Ave. S., Seattle, and the South and Southeast All Grades School Fair is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 2 at Mercer Middle School, 1600 Columbian Way S., Seattle.

The three enrollment centers are Wilson-Pacific, Building 400, 1330 N. 90th St.; the Bilingual Family Center, Aki Kurose Middle School, Room 105, 3928 S. Graham St.; and the John Stanford Center."

I would add - check high school/middle school/elementary school website for tour times and dates.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Op-Ed from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson

This op-ed appeared in today's Times. It seems to try to lay the groundwork for a new strategic plan. I say try because her 5 steps are somewhat bland. From her piece:

"That's why I've directed the development of a new strategic plan for Seattle Public Schools, initiated with funding from local philanthropists. Our first step is to assess our district's strengths and challenges. We are examining five priority areas that emerged from surveys and interviews conducted to date with key stakeholders:

• Support high-quality teaching and learning;

• Attract and support district talent;

• Drive districtwide efficiency and effectiveness;

• Introduce effective performance management;

• Strengthen relationships with stakeholders and partners.

This diagnostic groundwork will identify successes we can replicate and weaknesses we must address. It will include the findings from academic and operations peer reviews now under way by national experts. It will tap into the knowledge of our teachers, principals, central staff and community members about what is needed to move the entire district to excellence. It will capitalize on the energy and commitment of our new School Board, united in its pledge to academic achievement for all students."

Her use of the word "diagnostic" is a little confusing. I'm assuming she means that from all the conversations with parents and community they got clarity on what are the top items to be accomplished. I'm also troubled by the 4th goal because using the word "introduce" sounds like there has been no performance management ever.

I hope that when she does present her action agenda (I would think after McKinsey does its work) that there are real and recognizable actions.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More WASL News

Both the PI and the Times reported that 657 more kids have passed the reading and writing WASL.

Out of nearly 12,000 students needing to pass the WASL to graduate in 2008, 657 have passed their WASL retakes. "A total of 8,239 students took the WASL in August at 233 sites statewide. That number includes more than 1,000 juniors who passed one or more parts of the test."

From the Times article:

"Counting the August results, there are now 61,178 seniors who've passed both reading and writing on the WASL. That's 84.5 percent of the class, counting only those who are still in school, and look like they'll have enough credits to graduate. About 64 percent have passed math."

Great but that means that almost 4,000 students who needed to retake the WASL didn't. I mean didn't even try. What will happen to them?

As I have mentioned before, 9th graders can take any part of the 10th grade WASL (except the science). Ninth-graders who want to test need to pre-register online or by phone Dec. 10, 2007 through Jan. 14, 2008. Information will be available at www.k12.wa.us/waslregistration. It counts as one of your 5 tries and if you pass, you are done with that section of the WASL.

(By the way, those of you with 9th graders, let us know if your school has made any special plans for student. I've been hearing rumblings about it at Roosevelt and I'd like to know if this is happening elsewhere.)

About the Math WASL - I don't know what all the wringing of hands and pulling of hair by the Governor or the newspapers was about. Kids have to take the Math WASL and pass it OR do some other work. A person at OSPI admitted to me the easiest thing for kids to do is just pass the math WASL. The other options (which I believe the deadline to do is Friday) are as follows:

"For the graduating classes of 2008-2012, students must pass the reading and writing WASL, a state-approved alternative to the WASL or an assessment for students in special education. Students can meet the state’s math requirement by passing the math WASL, a state-approved alternative or an assessment for students in special education, OR, they can continue to earn math credits until they graduate. Students who pass the reading, writing and math assessments earn a Certificate of Academic Achievement or Certificate of Individual Achievement and a high school diploma. Students who fulfill the math requirement by earning math credits do not receive a certificate but do earn a diploma.

For the graduating classes of 2008-2012, students must pass the reading and writing WASL, a state-approved alternative to the WASL or an assessment for students in special education. Students can meet the state’s math requirement by passing the math WASL, a state-approved alternative or an assessment for students in special education, OR, they can continue to earn math credits until they graduate. Students who pass the reading, writing and math assessments earn a Certificate of Academic Achievement or Certificate of Individual Achievement and a high school diploma. Students who fulfill the math requirement by earning math credits do not receive a certificate but do earn a diploma.

The Certificate of Academic Achievement Options are:
Collection of Evidence – Students compile a set of classroom work samples with the help of a teacher(s). Collections for students in Career and Technical Education programs can include work from their program and other classes. The state scores collections two times a year.
Fee Waivers are available for eligible students to take the approved PSAT, SAT, ACT and AP assessments.
SAT or ACT – Students may use their math, reading or English and writing scores on college readiness tests.
Minimum math scores: SAT – 470; and ACT – 19. Minimum SAT and ACT reading and writing scores: State Board of Education to determine by Dec. 1, 2007, or earlier, if possible.
– Right now, students may submit a math score of 47 as an approved alternative. After Aug. 31, 2008, the PSAT will no longer be an approved alternative.
Advanced Placement – Students may use a score of three or higher on select AP exams. Math: Calculus or statistics; Writing: English language and composition; Reading: English literature and composition, macroeconomics, microeconomics, psychology, United States history, world history, United States government and politics, or comparative government and politics
WASL/Grades Comparison– A student’s grades in math courses and/or English courses are compared with the grades of students who took the same courses AND passed the WASL. This option is available to students in 12thgrade. To access this option, a student must have an overall cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 grading scale."

Kids who can pass the SAT or ACT or an AP class or likely to pass the math WASL. I was surprised to learn that over 700 students statewide did some other option besides passing the math WASL. I wonder if OSPI will ever have a breakout of who did, where and which options were used.

Teachers Against McKinsey

This op-ed appeared in today's Times. It was written by two teachers who introduced the resolution to the SEA against the hiring of McKinsey, the consulting firm hired by Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. They take pains to say their argument is not with Dr. G-J but with the firm itself.

It is likely that McKinsey will hold either a couple of public meetings or have some focus groups. If anyone attends, you should let us know.

Monday, December 17, 2007

School Board Agenda and Facilities

From the agenda for the Board meeting on Wednesday:

"The current design for work at Denny Middle School and Chief Sealth High School calls for the replacement of Denny Middle School, built in 1952; the modernization of Chief Sealth High School, built in 1957 and the construction of shared facilities on the existing Chief Sealth High School property. Denny Middle School will be relocated to the Chief Sealth High School campus. New shared facilities will include classrooms, cafeteria and commons.

The current configuration is undergoing review. Whatever configuration is selected, there will not be instructional use of the replaced sections of the schools."

So now we know for sure that the District wants Denny to move to Sealth's campus. This was, again, an issue that was not clear. I'm with Charlie; how much overlap is there for Sealth from the work done on it from BEX II to BEX III?


"The Martin Luther King property is no longer needed for District purposes, and can be declared surplus. If this motion is approved, any disposition of this property will be done consistent with Board policies and will require additional School Board action. Proposed changes to the School Board policy on use of Closed Buildings are being developed for presentation to the School Board in early 2008."

Bye, bye MLK.

The italics are mine but I wanted to highlight that sentence as an FYI.

Can't Connect the Dots

There are a few little things rattling around in my head - nagging detail sort of things that just don't add up or appear contradictory. None of them are very big, but together they seem like a discouraging trend. It all feels like a lack of follow-through and a lack of honesty.

Sealth / Denny Project

* I knew that Sealth and Denny were going to share some facilities, and I thought that was common knowledge. So how come people are now saying that it wasn't?

* Similarly, the work that Sealth is getting isn't a full renovation. I can't say whether I knew that or not, but clearly some other folks thought that it would be.

* As part of the BEX II levy, Sealth got a modernization of the facility to support the school's transformation plan. Scope of work included creation of a new student commons and building entry, renovating the library, upgrading 9th grade classroom for collaborative teaching, creating a multiple use science lab, and remodeling the metal shop area to become the math academy. So how come in BEX III, the District needs to, once again, build a new library and student commons? And I thought I read that BEX III also would re-do the Sealth building entrance - again.

* According to the BEX III schedule in the brochure, the planning and design for the Denny/Sealth project will continue to June 2009 when construction begins. So if there is another year and a half for planning and design, then why all the talk about it being a done deal?

Southeast Initiative

* The last we heard about the Southeast Initiative, the District's commitment to Aki Kurose was going to be "1.0 - 2.0 FTE pending further discussions with the new principal" and the commitment to Cleveland was described only as "2007-08 resource requirements for Cleveland HS are to be determined after more in-depth discussions with the school’s leadership team." So what did the Southeast Initiative actually get for these schools this year?

* There is supposed to be an accountability element built into the Southeast Initiative. The District, in consultation with the schools this past summer, was supposed to set clear objectives for each school in Enrollment Growth, % of First Choice, Increased Academic Achievement, Student and Teacher Climate Survey Results, and Attendance. In addition to these goals for Fall 2010, each school is supposed to have annual benchmarks. So what are these clear objectives for Fall 2010 and what are the annual benchmarks?

Student Assignment Plan

* According to the Timeline for the New Student Assignment Plan, from September to December of 2007, the District staff are supposed to be designing and testing models, analyzing system impacts, conducting reviews by internal stakeholders, and continuing ongoing community engagement. In January to March of 2008 they will develop the initial detailed proposal. There is no mention of designing and testing models or analyzing system impacts after December 2007. So have they already modeled every change that they are considering or will consider?

* In April, when Ms Santorno announced the postponement of the decision to split middle school APP between Washington and Hamilton, she wrote that changes in APP would be part of the new assignment plan. But she also wrote that specific dates and opportunities for involvement would be outlined as part of the process of creating the plan. From that day to this the District has not spoken with the APP Advisory Committee nor with the APP community about changes in the program. There has been absolutely no engagement on this topic at all.

* When the Superintendent gave the Board (and the public) an update on the Student Assignment plan in September, she clearly said that Advanced Learning, bilingual, and special education programs would be on the table for the new plan.

* But in her response to the annual report and recommendations of the APP Advisory Committee, the Superintendent wrote that no near term changes are under discussion or anticipated in APP configuration (the number, size, and location of programs). So does that mean that no changes in APP configuration are part of the new Student Assignment Plan?

* I can't tell. Will the New Student Assignment Plan include changes to APP or not? In April and September they seemed to say that it will. In December the Superintendent clearly said that it will not.

Superintendent's Entry Plan

* Isn't it time that we see something more concrete from the Superintendent? For a person who talks about clear, objective, measureable goals, we've only got a lot of vague ideas so far.

* Isn't she supposed to spill out a whole package of plans for improvement in January?

* She has put the word accountability into just about everything, but I've yet to see anyone held accountable for anything.

* She says that accountability means that Seattle Public Schools understands our data and we use it to set performance targets for the district, school and classrooms. So where are these performance targets? Are they secret?

Community Engagement

* The new Coordinator of Family and Community Engagement is Bernardo Ruiz but his name does not appear anywhere on the District web site for Family Involvement. In particular, it does not appear on the "Contact Us" page. It can only be found on the documents related to the nomination of new member of the School Family Partnership Advisory Committee.

* Speaking of the School Family Partnership Advisory Committee, it is seeking new members and held nominations open through November 16. It has been a month since then, shouldn't we know by now who was selected for this committee?

* Where is the progress on the School-Family Partnership Plan and the Family and Community Engagement elements of the Distict's Strategic Framework? I'm not seeing it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Go Diving and Look What You Find

So I was looking for a BEX III timeline on the district's website and I happened upon the BEX Oversight Committee Meeting Minutes for April of this year. I happened upon a discussion about New School which provides some illuminating information so that we can all be clear on how the District views New School.

"Karin [Nyrop, a committee member] wants to be sure that this design doesn’t in any way compromise the program for the New School. Don [Gilmore, Facilities staff] responded that the building design is very flexible and will accommodate a pre-K-8. This design actually gives the New School more than is in the MOU. The District agreed that this building would be built for District needs. The New School is not a charter school or a publicly run school. It is a District school with additional funding."

This is interesting for several reasons:
1) the "South Shore" project (which in the district's bond/levy brochure doesn't even mention New School) is advertised as a 6-8 to k-8 building. But we all know that New School is preK-8 so now it's being built that way.
2) "this design given the New School more than is in the MOU (memorandum of understanding between the New School Foundation and the district)". We should keep this in mind for future MOU's because then, of course, this becomes the standard for anyone who follows.
3) "The New School is....not a publicly run school...it's a District school with additional funding". What interesting phrasing. I'm trying to ponder what that could mean and why they wouldn't want to call it a publicly run school. Something to query the Legal department about.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Seattle Times Letters to the Editor

This letter to the editor appeared in today's Seattle Times:

"Bootstrap's on the other foot

The problem [of racial disparity] continues after APP into AP (Advanced Placement) high-school classes, another club for white, affluent families.

At least 55 percent of Roosevelt students need a level playing field that children in AP with stay-at-home/"hovercraft"-parents/Laurelhurst-privilege don't think a freaking minute about.

And that's one of the Seattle Public Schools' poster-child schools, Roosevelt. I'm at a boiling point.

I am not anti-APP or anti-AP. I am for opportunities for all and if we have only enough dough to fund one program, I want it to be for the kids falling through the cracks, as I believe the others will do fine in general with their notably larger variety of options.

Ideally, I want individual learning plans and high levels of achievement for each in their own way but, like I said, given that apparently everyone cannot be served, I'll help the most vulnerable first and leave the affluent kids "behind." We all know they'll do just fine.

— Kate Martin, mother of two sons at Roosevelt High School, Seattle

The perspective voiced here reflects a popular sentiment in Seattle.
It is tragically misinformed and misguided.

It refers, unfairly, to APP and AP as a "club for white, affluent families".
While Ms Martin claims that she is "not anti-APP or anti-AP" her other statements belie that claim.

Likewise, she claims to be "for opportunities for all", but then selects a class of students who should not have an opportunity.

It's a good thing that we don't only have enough dough to fund one program. There are hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated to meeting the needs of underprivileged students and $350,000 in state grant money that is spent on APP. AP runs on self-help dollars.

Ms Martin presumes, incorrectly, that "everyone cannot be served" and presumes, incorrectly, that the affluent students will be just fine if they are abandoned by the District.

Final Closure and Consolidation Finance Information

From the district's School Beat:

"Director DeBell provided a summary of the final report on
school closure, which is available at:

Some of the highlights include:
• Enrollment – just over 50 percent of students from closed schools enrolled in the designated receiving schools. Of the remaining 366 students, 154 left the District (a quarter of these were nonresidents).• Capital costs of the move will likely come in just underbudget at $1.5 million, which includes $400,000 to build a teen parent program center at South Lake.
• Long-term capital savings are estimated at $44 million for BTA-type projects and $351 million in levy projects.
• General fund costs were higher than estimated at $927,000.
• General fund savings in the first year, originally estimated to be $2.48 million, are $1.9 million. Savings are reduced because the Marshall building remained open for one more year, and Columbia is being used as the interim site for The New School.
• $1 million of the $1.9 million savings was directed back to the classroom via K-2 libraries, math adoption, and an additional staff member at each of the receiving schools."

The whole report is actually quite illuminating. Some other interesting things about it:

- MLK did the worst in student movement to a receiving school (TT Minor) at 36.2% with Viewlands at 58.3% going to Broadview-Thompson.

-"The original estimate for capital expenditures was between $1,455,000 and $1,495,000. As ofOctober 1, 2007 we had expended $1,077,983.00.1 We expect that number to go up slightly as a few lingering invoices are submitted, however, we still anticipate coming in under budget in the capital arena. The total includes $400,000 to build a new teen parenting program at South Lake to replace the program at John Marshall.
We expect a few additional projects to come out of the FY 2008 budget—we’re estimating $72,000 to install a window at Broadview-Thomson, finish the special education preschool playground at West Seattle Elementary, and complete a library work room build-out at Whitworth. In addition 2008 will see the completion of the greenhouse for Orca, which was a previously scheduled BTA II project."

I had wondered where the money was coming for the teen parenting program at South Lake. It has absolutely no business in this issue or from this pot of money. It should have been in BEX III. Also, this is the first I had heard that the teen parenting program at John Marshall would be closed. I had also advocated for more of the receiving schools to get upgrades from BEX III but they didn't. I'll have ask where this money actually came from. For example, Orca should have lockers if it's a K-8 and that's not reflected here.

-The district is counting on huge capital cost savings in not having these buildings open especially from seismic costs.

-There was a lot of honesty in the document. For example:

"It is clear that, especially in Seattle, where we have contracts that require people to be paid to move and where costs in general are higher, closing buildings is an expensive endeavor. However, these one-time costs are not so great that they detract from the overall savings (both general fund and capital fund) of having fewer buildings to maintain and staff. Honesty in the closure costs, along with an acknowledgment that we are committed to making closure asuccessful process for all involved, will make future budgeting for closures an easier and more transparent process."

It's good they acknowledge this but once again a statement like, "we'll try harder in the future to make things more transparent", gets old.

-I found this interesting:
"The delay in closing the John Marshall building, and the decision to move The New School into the Columbia building while their building was being completed reduced those savings to $1.9 million."
I hadn't known they weren't going to move New School out during their rebuild. That's quite a large cost.

- Problem: "Now, with some time and distance from the process, the principals have had time to reflect and offer suggestions for future school closure processes.
One item that has come up repeatedly is a belief that the process was under-funded and undermanaged."
Solution: "A suggestion made was to dedicate one central staff member to each pair of schools(closed and receiving) and make that person the liaison for the operational aspects of this process."

-More honesty:
"Principals also stressed the need for honesty throughout the process. We appeared too facile inour comments that everything would be better in the new buildings. It is true that with more students the schools can provide more services. However, that is small solace to teachers who are involuntarily removed from an environment they have created and are placed into a new environment with new people and new processes.
Communication throughout this process was relatively poor, in part because no one working on the project had done closures before, and in part because the project was under-funded and under-managed.

I give them points for some real honesty in their assessments. I deduct points for this coming as a surprise; one of the members of the C&C Committee did a report on the closures in the '80s that covered some of this. I'll be interested to see the reaction from different groups when this information is widely disseminated.

(All italics mine.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Plot Thickens

Say what?

As you might recall, when I expressed my concerns over the BEX III list, some said we should just get the money and then talk to the Board because after all they have the power to change the list. Or do they?

Hopping over to my favorite city blog in West Seattle, I see that the West Seattle community is a very feisty bunch. Apparently they had a meeting recently for the Westwood Neighborhood Council and Steve Sundquist said the board was trying to get a legal opinion on whether they (the board) have the legal right to cancel/change the Denny/Sealth project. Steve also said, per the Facilities rhetoric, that time is crucial because of ever-rising construction costs. (I did look this up recently and Seattle falls in the middle of the country for school construction costs. Because of the mortgage crisis, construction costs are likely to go down rather than up.)

Interesting. I would think that the Board would, because they vote the projects, the budgets and hire the superintendent, have the power to change or veto a project. Apparently, many of you thought that too as I recall from the myriad of posts.

The "my way or the highway" stance of district staff seems to not work for West Seattle. They feel hoodwinked by the dual nature of the project and the lack of information. I. with all my research, never found that it was going to create a dual school. So who knew that before the bond was voted on? The principals? Facilities? The Board?

Recall Doesn't Meet Legal Standard

This post was in the blog by David Postman of the Times. As you may or may not recall, a citizen filed a recall petition against 5 School Board members in the wake of school closures. The State Supreme court ruled it did not meet the legal standard for a recall. There was a minor dispute in the opinions, however. It concerned the following:

"But there is disagreement on the court about whether the Seattle School District should have intervened on behalf of the elected board members" "The majority of the court said the district was within its rights to join the lawsuit." However,

"But Justice James Johnson, writing in a concurring opinion signed by Justice Richard Sanders, argues that the school district was essentially using public funds to campaign on behalf of the board members. Johnson said that despite laws against use of public funds for political campaigns, Downing's ruling "allowed the District to accomplish the same end — likely with its limited taxpayer funds."

Go Rainier Beach!

This article appeared in today's PI about efforts to revamp RBHS and get them on the radar for high school choice. These include:

- hiring four extra teachers this year, including a full-time drama teacher and a full-time music teacher

-plans to add more drama, music and dance classes next year to take advantage of the school's state-of-the-art performing-arts center.

-expanding the school's honors and Advanced Placement classes for next fall.

From the article:

The school has also gained notice for its weekly "seventh period" after-school class for sophomores, in which they get extra doses of math, reading and writing to help them prepare to take the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning."

At 374 students they have nowhere else to go but up. They need more numbers as the school is large enough for 1200 although a 750-1000 is probably a good goal.

The posts in the Soundoff area of the article show a lot of mistrust that things could be changing. Some of it is because of the neighborhood and I'd have to agree. It really has problems and that's should be on the City to do something about it. This is one area where the City really could have some power in the outcomes for a school.

Basic Hard Academics

This article appeared in the Times today about Kirkland's International High School. From the article:

"Whatever you call it, the school's 380 seventh- through 12th-graders are performing better than most students in the country. About 95 percent go on to college and 100 percent of 10th-graders meet the standard for the WASL reading and math tests."

What do they take?

"Created in 1997 by a group of parents looking for a smaller educational format, ICS was modeled after Bellevue's International School, which was ranked fifth in the magazine listing. All students take six core subjects the first four years: humanities, international studies, art, math, science and Spanish. Beginning in 10th grade, only honors and Advanced Placement classes are offered."

There are no sports or vocal ed offered; music and drama are offered after school. Sports can be taken through Redmond high school.

"Minority enrollment at ICS is about 2 percent, while disadvantaged student enrollment is 0.5 percent." It's also a 7-12 grade level make-up.

Clearly a school for students who want to work hard. It's open to everyone on a lottery system. It's a bit confusing because Bellevue also has a high-powered international school. It is unclear to me what makes Kirkland an international school; the article doesn't say.

It's housed in a former elementary school (which tells you that short of safety, in the end, good academics can trump a building.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The "New" New Math

This column was in today's Times. Bruce Ramsey was writing about a meeting that State Superintendent Terry Bergeson had with people from the Where's the Math group. It sounds like Dr. Bergeson has heard, loud and clear, from parents but, after reading the column, I have to wonder what will happen if math is taught in multiple ways. Is that harder for the teacher? Confusing for the students?

This is an issue that will likely not affect my child but I know many out there have deep concerns over it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

How easily I get confused

I am really confused now.

In April as she delays the decision to split middle school APP, Ms Santorno commits to providing ample communication and authentic engagement with the APP community when the reconfiguration question comes back within the context of the new student assignment plan.

However, there has been absolutely no communication or engagement in the eight months since she made that commitment. Not a word. So what did she mean by that? I'm really confused by these two apparently irreconcilable facts.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has made it very clear that changes in the size and location of Advanced Learning programs will be part of the new student assignment plan. This is consistent with Ms Santorno's April statement and the inclusion of APP student data on the new Student Assignment plan web site. Possible changes to APP have been discussed at various new student assignment plan meetings.

However, in her response to the APP Advisory Committee's annual report and recommendations, she wrote "At present, no near term changes [in APP configuration] are under discussion or anticipated." So what did she mean by that? I'm really confused by these two apparently irreconcilable facts.

According to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, the District staff have been modeling changes in program size and location for three months. According to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, changes in advanced learning programs have been included in these models. According to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, no changes in APP have even been discussed.

So it appears that changes in APP are off the table for discussion in the new student assignment plan. Does that sound right to anyone?

Maybe I've misinterpreted some of these statements. Maybe this is all abundantly clear, and I'm just easily confused. Can anyone help me to understand?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

US News and World Report Rankings for Puget Sound Schools

U.S. News and World Report came out with its rankings of U.S. high schools in this article. There were 2 Puget Sound schools in the top 100 with a gold ranking. Those were the International School in Kirkland (#12) and Newport High in Bellevue (#44). Five other Puget Sound high schools, including two in Seattle, received silver rankings. Those were Bainbridge, Garfield, Issaquah, Mercer Island and Roosevelt. (The Board honored Roosevelt and Garfield at the last Board meeting.)

The article has many good side articles including their methodology and a good article on a border school in Texas that is doing very well and yet may still get on the NCLB's underperforming list.

The Starting Line is the Finish Line

Very interesting article in the NY Times on a recent study done by Educational Testing Services which administers millions of standardized tests each year including the SAT. From the article:

"What’s interesting about the report — which combines E.T.S. studies with research on families from myriad sources, including the Census Bureau and Child Trends research center — is how much we know, how often government policy and parental behavior does not reflect that knowledge, and how stacked the odds are against so many children. (The study is at www.ets.org/familyreport.)"

Here's the crux of what they found:

"The E.T.S. researchers took four variables that are beyond the control of schools: The percentage of children living with one parent; the percentage of eighth graders absent from school at least three times a month; the percentage of children 5 or younger whose parents read to them daily, and the percentage of eighth graders who watch five or more hours of TV a day. Using just those four variables, the researchers were able to predict each state’s results on the federal eighth-grade reading test with impressive accuracy.

“Together, these four factors account for about two-thirds of the large differences among states,” the report said. In other words, the states that had the lowest test scores tended to be those that had the highest percentages of children from single-parent families, eighth graders watching lots of TV and eighth graders absent a lot, and the lowest percentages of young children being read to regularly, regardless of what was going on in their schools."

Some causes?

"The report describes how much we rely on child care from an early age — half of 2-year-olds are in some kind of nonparental care — and how much worse that care is for poor and minority children. According to the report, poor children are twice as likely to be in low quality care as middle and upper class children, black children more than twice as likely as white children.

And it is black families who rely on day care most: 63 percent, compared with 49 percent of whites and 44 percent of Asians. Says Mr. Coley, “Our day care system may be reinforcing the gap rather than closing it.”

Another way to support parents of young children is paid leave when a child is born, which is routine in most of the world, but not in the United States.

According to Dr. Jody Heymann, director of the Institute of Health and Social Policy at McGill University, 172 of the 176 countries she surveyed this year offer guaranteed paid leave to women who have just had babies. The four that do not? Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United States."

I have always thought parents are the third rail in public education. It is so difficult to talk about because who can be the one to judge another person's parenting? We all know this as a golden rule of parenting because (1) there are so many life situations and (2) who hasn't made a mistake as a parent? But, as a society, maybe we should ask why we have so many single family households and how we can support families in all their forms for the greater good.

An interesting observation appeared at the end of the article by its co-author:

"Mr. Coley believes this kind of government support is necessary if we are serious about closing the gap. “We don’t seem to get it,” he said. “Or maybe we think we can’t afford it, I don’t know.”

I don't know? Sure we know. There are people in this country who are selfish and willing to allow others to slowly (or quickly) fall to the bottom and stay there. We are in a presidential election year. Let's ask some hard questions about what these candidates believe about public education. It is beyond me how Iowa Republicans can say that illegal immigration is their number one concern (which, according to polls, it is). We only have a war on, mortgage failures, a poor health care system and, oh yeah, an education system that may be failing kids because our government doesn't want to support families. We can pay now or pay later in other ways that hurt our country and our society.

AP In SPS High schools

This article appeared in the Times on Friday, detailing AP in SPS high schools and in particular at Cleveland where previously there was none. From the article:

"Departing Bellevue schools Superintendent Mike Riley is known for increasing AP participation by making it a goal that every student in his district would take at least one AP course. Seattle's new superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, has said she has the same goal. To reach it, she's working on spreading AP around, giving more students access to the courses.

"When I say all kids should take AP, I believe students should not be denied access because it's not taught," Goodloe-Johnson said.

A 2007 University of Texas study showed students who took AP in high school earned better grades in college." (I hadn't read this study but a previous one found that students who attempted an AP course in high school did better in college and those who took the test did even better.)

I had been under the impression that Superintendent Riley had given resources and support to students who weren't top students to help them. That has to happen if you want all kids to try an AP class.

It will be interesting to see how Hale will keep its position of no separate AP and Honors classes (except, I think, in math) with what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson wants. We have heard here from parents who have written that they wouldn't want Hale because of the lack of AP. Roosevelt's LA department also doesn't offer AP classes. That is being revisited but it is very preliminary.

From the article:

"Garfield High School has the most AP courses in the district — 15. Any student can take them, but they are offered as part of the district's Accelerated Progress Program. Roosevelt has 11, and Ballard plans to offer 16 this school year, although not all of them have been approved by The College Board."

I did write to Emily Heffter, the reporter at the Times who wrote the article, to let her know that there was no APP in high school but the larger number of offerings at Garfield is because it is the feeder school for those students (if they choose to attend). AP at Garfield is open to all students.

One thing that I would love to see the Alliance or some other group step up to do is pay for the AP tests for low-income students. I believe the College Board, which runs AP, does have a reduced fee but it would be helpful if poorer students had to pay $10 or less or nothing in order to reduce barriers in their heads to attempting these courses.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

West Seattle Working On Talks With District

This article appeared in the West Seattle Herald. It details how one neighborhood was trying to set up talks with the district about long-term planning for the district's properties in the area and Denny/Sealth. It didn't work out but there's disagreement on why. The district is planning one of its own facilitated discussions.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Open Thread: Any Comments or Thoughts?

To start us off, I'm attending the Board of Ed. meeting tonight at North Seattle CC on state graduation requirements. So the questions I have been pondering;

- college-ready versus citizen-ready? Can we really have every student college-ready? Is that too high a goal? What about kids who don't care about being college-ready? Personally, the baseline for me is citizen-ready with the option to be college-ready. As a citizen, you need to know how to take care of yourself. That means applying and interviewing for a job. Being able to manage money and understand net/gross/percentages, etc. Being able to understand the biology of your body and the environment to take care of both. Being able to read, comprehend and do critical analysis of news stories (no matter their source - tv, internet or hard copy). Understanding U.S. and world history so that you know why what goes on in Washington, D.C. matters and how the U.S. and Americans fit into the world and why voting matters.

Then, for those who want to go to college, take the upper level courses to get ready.

-should there be different diplomas? This was mentioned in an article in the PI as something done in other states. I don't know enough myself to comment.

Anyway, lead on with any discussion.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Let's Be Careful Out There

Hale was closed today due to flooding and will remain closed until Wednesday.

Golden Gardens Drive is washed out and a slide swallowed a Subuaru.

Be extra careful out there!

Review of Gifted Programs (not so much)

So it was announced that the review of the gifted programs was completed in an article in today's Times. The article only talks about APP so I wonder if Spectrum or the ALOs were even looked at. Maybe it's only the programs that get state funding that were reviewed. If so, that's not very useful. From the article:

"An outside review of gifted education in Seattle Public Schools said the district should act aggressively to diversify its program.

Almost three-quarters of the students enrolled in the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) are white, compared to about 40 percent districtwide."

I know, for a fact, that huge outreach has been done so I'll be interested to see what else the district comes up with to find more minority students.


"But according to the report, APP is perceived to be "elitist, exclusionary and even racist," and that some of its African-American students are bullied and isolated."

Okay, perceived by whom?

But at the heart of the problem?

"The program's curriculum lacks vision, the report said, and rigor in classes is inconsistent. "The philosophy and definition of giftedness in Seattle do not reflect current developments in the field of gifted education," it said."

This is absolutely key and, to me, absolutely true. I trust Bob Vaughn, who is now the head of the department, but if he doesn't get key support, nothing will change.

Here's a link to the full report which I haven't read yet.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Really Interesting Article in the Economist

Anonymous 3:51 p.m. posted a link to a great article in the Economist about McKinsey and Company, the consultants for the district's strategic review (thanks!). It was more about their review than the company itself but the article had a lot of fascinating findings. To whit:

  • "There are big variations in educational standards between countries. These have been measured and re-measured by the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which has established, first, that the best performing countries do much better than the worst and, second, that the same countries head such league tables again and again: Canada, Finland, Japan, Singapore, South Korea."
  • What do these successful school systems have in common? "Not more money. Singapore spends less per student than most. Nor more study time. Finnish students begin school later, and study fewer hours, than in other rich countries."
  • "Begin with hiring the best. There is no question that, as one South Korean official put it, “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” "
  • "The quality of teachers affects student performance more than anything else." "
  • Almost every rich country has sought to reduce class size lately. Yet all other things being equal, smaller classes mean more teachers for the same pot of money, producing lower salaries and lower professional status. That may explain the paradox that, after primary school, there seems little or no relationship between class size and educational achievement."
  • "You might think that schools should offer as much money as possible, seek to attract a large pool of applicants into teacher training and then pick the best. Not so, says McKinsey. If money were so important, then countries with the highest teacher salaries—Germany, Spain and Switzerland—would presumably be among the best. They aren't. In practice, the top performers pay no more than average salaries." "In both countries (Finland and Sinapore), teaching is a high-status profession (because it is fiercely competitive) and there are generous funds for each trainee teacher (because there are few of them).
  • "Singapore provides teachers with 100 hours of training a year and appoints senior teachers to oversee professional development in each school. In Japan and Finland, groups of teachers visit each others' classrooms and plan lessons together. In Finland, they get an afternoon off a week for this. In Boston, which has one of America's most improved public-school systems, schedules are arranged so that those who teach the same subject have free classes together for common planning."
  • "For the past few years, almost all countries have begun to focus more attention on testing, the commonest way to check if standards are falling. McKinsey's research is neutral on the usefulness of this, pointing out that while Boston tests every student every year, Finland has largely dispensed with national examinations. Similarly, schools in New Zealand and England and Wales are tested every three or four years and the results published, whereas top-of-the-class Finland has no formal review and keeps the results of informal audits confidential."
  • "But there is a pattern in what countries do once pupils and schools start to fail. The top performers intervene early and often."
Here is a link to the McKinsey report that the article references. I haven't read it yet.

Uh Oh, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson Hits a Bump

This article was in Sunday's Times about the SEA not wanting to participate in the development of a "strategic" plan that a consulting company will be creating. Individual union members, meaning teachers, can make their own decision but the union as a whole is advising against it.

Here's their rationale from the article:

"But teachers say McKinsey has a history of recommending tactics the union opposes, including privatizing schools — putting a private organization or company in charge of public schools, something that's happened in a handful of other U.S. cities."

"In school systems across the country, the firm has recommended "empowering"principals to be leaders at their schools and greater use of charter schools. In a 2006 review of Ohio's schools, the firm recommended tying student performance to teacher pay — a method Seattle's union opposes."

One of nine recommendations McKinsey made this fall to Minneapolis Public Schools is that the district "set clear expectations for all staff, reward successes, and develop or remove low performers."

"That kind of language worries union leaders, who question McKinsey's objectivity. "There is a lack of trust that McKinsey will actually come to a conclusion different from it had prior to interviewing our members," Kimball wrote in a letter to teachers."

I don't know how much reviewing the SEA did; I'd hope it was a lot. If McKinsey comes in with a set idea of how to handle teachers and teaching issues, it would be troublesome. Every district is different.

On the other hand, every person who has a job gets evaluated in one way or another. Most people get a performance review. But teaching is a highly personal, subjective job. If a teacher has a class of challenging students, does he or she get credit for reaching 5 of them? If a teacher has never taking a challenging assignment, should he or she get dunned for taking what might be perceived the easier road? How to measure performance in teaching is a huge issue.

Another issue raised from the article:

"We have to establish a completely different relationship with a completely different downtown [administration]," said SEA Vice President Olga Addae. "And we are talking about a superintendent who is not well-versed in contract language."

Kimball said Goodloe-Johnson started at a time when teachers are under pressure and frustrated by their many responsibilities. She said there are many young and idealistic teachers in the district who have strong political views opposing privatizing schools. The superintendent will have to understand that environment.

Goodloe-Johnson moved to Seattle from Charleston, S.C., where there was no teachers union. She said she meets with the Seattle union regularly and stressed that she wants to support teachers."

This point is worth considering. Dr. G-J didn't deal with a teachers' union in S.C. because it's a right-to-work state. Is she going to need a learning curve on this issue?

The last word from the teachers:

"The resolution passed Monday said: "The members of the Seattle Education Association will view any consultation with McKinsey and Company as a serious, but unintentional error which impinges on good faith bargaining."

Wendy Kimball, SEA president, said she would sit in on the meetings but not participate. (By the way, she's one of the calmest people I've ever met and seems well suited for this job.)

The strategic plan is to be combined with the reviews of curriculum, special ed, etc. and should be complete by Feb./March.

So a new assignment plan and a new strategic plan, one by May and one by March? That's a lot of overhaul in a short period of time. The devil is in the details (or the implementation).

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Alliance for Education

So there's this full page ad in the PI today (maybe the Times as well) where the Alliance is thanking the people who attended their Black and Orange Ball in October. It's quite a list (SilverCloud Inns and Hotels?).

I read a few of their publications. In one place they say this is what a Seattle public school graduate should have:
  • have the foundational skills for reading, writing, math and science and have the capacity for change
  • communicate effectively (they could have used this for point one; what does that mean?)
  • be a critical consumer of information and be able to utilize changing technology
  • think analytically and solve problems
  • understand and value themselves and others
  • work respectfully and productively in teams
  • value democracy, diversity and community stewardship
  • appreciate the arts
  • be prepared for careers and life-long learning
That's quite a laundry list. Maybe we should add to the list of everything else we want in a high school graduate.

I'm being sarcastic here but you get a list from SPS, then one from OSPI, then the Alliance chimes in. How do we know what's enough, too much or too little? Is this too ambitious a list or maybe that's the point?

Good News About Rainier Beach HS


I wanted to pass along this article about Rainier Beach High School that appeared in the Seattle Times on Friday. As all of you can imagine, we are pretty proud of this, but are nowhere near satisfied. We still face huge challenges every day, but I would just like the larger community to know that real learning does take place at RB and that there is dedicated, talented and focused administration and faculty that are committed to the education of every child that enters the doors at RBHS.

When it comes to academic achievement, I wonder when the last time Roosevelt, Nathan Hale and Rainier Beach were used in the same sentence?


Spotlight on Chris Jackins

The West Seattle Herald has a nice piece highlighting the work of Chris Jackins: School critic remains focused on his task.

While I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with Chris on particular issues, I respect the time he has invested in being a district watch dog and the knowledge he has accumulated during that time.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's Official: We Have Four New Board Members

I attended the swearing-in ceremony at the John Stanford Center last night for the 4 new Board members. It was very sweet with relatives swearing in new members (Sherry Carr had a close friend who was the former principal at Bagley). They each gave a brief speech; one went on a bit long (which might be an future indicator). Ellen Roe, the grand dame of the Board (she served 4 terms at least) was there as well.

One oddity which may also be a future indicator (or something to hold them to): apparently Dr. Goodloe-Johnson found a directors' "affirmation" which they all agreed to recite. Cheryl Chow read most of it but they all chimed in at different places. They agreed to "abide by the policies and bylaws" of the Board. (Hold them to that, Charlie.) They agreed to "leave the day-to-day operations of the district to the superintendent and staff" - great but it is sometimes a gray area. They agreed to "no independent comments or actions" as directors. That one is really odd because if Mary Bass had sat on her hands about the financial problems, we might not have found out about it for a long time. And, they agreed to "refer constituent concerns to the appropriate staff". Good luck with that one. People feel like they elect these people to help them when really they are elected to oversee the superintendent.

I hope the new Board remembers this when unhappy parents call about school assignments.

Thought-Provoking Column on Teachers

This is the latest column from Leonard Pitts, Jr., a syndicated columnist. It has a lot of interesting thoughts based on a tour through a KIPP (chain of charter schools - one of the most successful charter systems in the country).

I found this section particularly compelling:

"Having spent the past year studying educational success stories, I find myself increasingly convinced that much of what ails American schools can be traced to a bureaucracy that: (a) doesn't pay enough; (b) does too little to encourage and reward creativity; (c) doesn't give principals authority over who works in their schools; (d) makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.

As Dolan put it, "I don't think you can pay a good teacher enough and I don't think you can fire a bad teacher fast enough." (italics mine).

"Teachers are generally very optimistic," said KIPP co-founder Dave Levin. "Unfortunately what happens is, you don't have a lot of examples in this country of systemic success and success at scale. You might have a good teacher there or a good teacher here, but you don't get enough concentration within a school or a district to have a cycle of success." "

Should Newcomers have to Pass the WASL?

There were two recent articles about the subject of immigrant students and WASL requirements. This article about Dr. Bergeson's efforts on this front appeared in today's Times. The other article appeared in the Times earlier in the week about teachers who know their students are passing classes but cannot pass the WASL. Part of argument seems to be whether these students should be treated like special ed students who get different measures of assessment.

From the second article:

"For those who are recent immigrants, however, she's not sure what to do. No matter how hard they work, she says, most haven't been in the country long enough to have much — if any — chance of passing a 10th-grade exam in English.

And that, she says, is "extremely unfair."

That's a sentiment shared by many of her colleagues in Seattle and across the state who are concerned about the roughly 2,000 students who probably won't graduate because they don't know enough English.

"If you or I lived in a country less than one year, we'd never pass," said Sid Glass, Douglas' counterpart at Ballard High. "There has to be some accommodation for these students."

It's also a sentiment questioned by those who think that students shouldn't earn a diploma until they can demonstrate the required skills in reading, writing and math — in English.

"In truth, if they go out there with a diploma, and they're clearly four to five years behind, what will that diploma really do for them?" asked Ricardo Sanchez, board chairman of the nonprofit Latino/a Educational Achievement Project (LEAP)."

Some facts from the article:

"Students who are learning English have a lower passage rate on the WASL than any other group reported — including students in special education (who have more options), and students who live in poverty."

"Starting this school year, however, all students, with the exception of some in special-education programs, also must pass reading and writing on the 10th-grade WASL, or an approved alternative, to earn a diploma. (They must pass an additional math class if they fail math on the WASL.)"

"When it comes to evaluating schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law, even the state superintendent's office has tried to convince the U.S. Department of Education that WASL scores of immigrant students shouldn't be counted for up to three years. But diplomas are a different matter." This is an important point for this discussion because since No Child Left Behind got no reforms in Congress (because no one could get a bill to the floor), these standards remain in place.

Well, I'm kind of with Charlie - could they pass the GED? If so, then they can have a diploma.

Here's some questions:

- what, if any, accommodations should these students receive?

- what do we want students to be able to do when they leave high school? Meaning, what do we, as a society, want them to be able to do? Be citizens? Be trained for a job? Be ready for college? Should it depend on what classes you take in high school? Many countries have kids take a track in high school (Germany for one) and no one bats an eye. But the kids and their parents choose. I don't think they are assigned.

From the first article:

"Bergeson also doesn't favor allowing immigrant students to graduate without passing reading and writing on the 10th-grade WASL, which is an option for some special-education students. It's also the policy in other states, such as Minnesota, where students who are learning English don't have to pass the state exit exam if they've been in the country for less than three years before graduation."

My husband immigrated to the US from Italy when he was 9. He said it was pretty difficult for him in school for the first couple of years. Imagine being a teenager with the pressure of not just learning English but proving it on a test for a piece of paper that is considered vital to being American.

Dr. Bergeson wants to throw a lot of money at the problem; maybe it will work. One thing that should be part of any effort is helping these immigrant communities - not just the students - understand that it is vital to support their students. It doesn't mean leaving your culture behind but accepting that living successfully in the US means you have to learn English. Our school system, however, has got to understand the data that it takes 3-7 years to become "academically-able" in another language.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Constituent School Boards

I went to the Charleston county website to look up how they enroll students. I was wondering what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had used in her past job to see if I might discern her thinking on the assignment plan. Oddly, I could not find a blessed thing. I searched everywhere and used their search feature and nothing. (Also, no staff directory. We may have a better district website than we think.)

Anyway, what I did find was that they have a 9-person School Board but then they have these regions with something called Constituent School Boards. There is absolutely no explanation of who these folks are or their role but I was intrigued. Has anyone ever heard of this before?

Okay, We Passed Simple Majority But There's One Catch

So I'm reading the Times online and see this story about the first levy elections after the Simple Majority passed. This will be happening in Snohomish county (and probably some others) in Feb. In a way, it's not a real first test because it will also occur the same time as the presidential primary which is likely to have high voter participation. Here's an interesting thing to keep in mind about the changeover (from the Times' article):

"Snohomish County adopted all-mail voting in January 2006, but it didn't take effect until the September primary, making the seven districts the first to run finance measures under the all-mail vote.

When Thurston County changed to all-mail voting in 1993, one of the first casualties was school-finance measures, said Auditor Kim Wyman. Instead of running one campaign, which often consisted of mailings and phone calls to supporters on the eve of the election, Wyman said districts had to shift to running campaigns timed to the mailing of absentee ballots and continuing through the election date."

What was the outcome?

"In 1994, [North] Thurston schools had a double levy failure for the first time. A lot of people pointed fingers at us," because of the change to all-mail voting, Wyman said,

Once school supporters adjusted their campaign strategies, she said, they successfully passed finance measures, though by narrower margins. The upside for the county, she said, was that voter participation nearly tripled, from about 13 percent to 42 percent in general elections."

So voter participation tripled (which is good) but the measures passed by narrower margins (not so good).

Last, there was this sentence that caught my eye and caused me to call the Secretary of State about it:

"Construction-bond measures still require 60 percent approval."

This is important because SPS's capital measure was, this time out, a bond measure. We normally have it as a levy. The woman at the Secretary of State's office said yes, a capital bond measure will still require a 60% supermajority while a capital levy will require a simple majority. She said most capital measures are bonds.

So it will all depend on what the district does next time out. They did a bond this time to get the money upfront and try to speed up construction schedules before construction costs go up but will they take the chance again next time if it will require a 60% supermajority?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

High School Credits

This was in our student bulletin at RHS:

"NEW APPROVAL PROCESS FOR ANY OUT OF DISTRICT COURSEWORK - Students who want to take ANY courses outside of Roosevelt for which they want credit towards Roosevelt graduation requirements, whether through BYU Distance Learning, Dartmoor, ETC or EA2, summer programs at UW or at Georgetown, take note: There is a new district policy which takes effect immediately, requiring students to get documented approval from their counselor and fill out paperwork PRIOR to enrolling in the course. "

This kind of follows up on Charlie's questions about getting math/language credit in high school for middle school work. Looks like some new district policy has taken effect.

New K-3 Libraries; How are They Working at Your School?

This article appeared in Monday's PI about the new mini-libraries in every K-2 classroom in Seattle. The plan is to extend it to 3, 4, and 5th grades. This from the article:

"The libraries aren't intended to replace regular school libraries but complement them. The hope is that students' interest in reading will be sparked by the classroom libraries and, in turn, circulation at school libraries will get a boost, Coles said."

A couple of things I had wondered about:

-from the article: "Thanks to new libraries installed in each Seattle kindergarten, first- and second-grade classroom this fall, Meisner and her peers have instant access to hundreds of books, each labeled with a letter from A to Z to indicate its level of difficulty."

Who determines an "R" versus an "S"? Isn't that a pretty detailed level of difficulty? What staff member has this job and who labels all the books?

- I hadn't heard about it being extended to 3, 4 and 5th. Where is this money coming from? And, where does this leave librarians? Have you spoken to your school's librarian? Is it complementing what they do?

Don't get me wrong; getting all kids onboard reading with good strong skills is vital. But with the new weighted staff formula might this not encourage a principal to get rid (or go to parttime) for a higher cost librarian with the reasoning that each classroom already has its own library?

(One last note; going through schools for closure and consolidation and checking out a variety of libraries was sobering. All school libraries are not equal and I was shocked at how understocked some libraries were as well as the dismal conditions of some of the rooms.)

High School Graduation Requirements

From a CPPS e-mail today:

How High Should We Set the High School Graduation Bar? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Are our children getting a world-class education to prepare them for 21st century life after high school? The WA State Board of Education wants to hear your thoughts as they review high school graduation requirements for the first time in 22 years. Background information/presentations will be provided to help inform this critical discussion.

Join this important community conversation:

Wednesday, December 4
6 - 8 pm
North Seattle Community College
College Center Bldg Cafeteria
9600 College Way North

The WA State Board of Education will use feedback from this meeting and from community meetings across the state to define the purpose of the high school diploma and to draft recommendations for new high school graduation requirements. The outcomes will be shared with the public in spring 2008 with another round of community outreach meetings pre-finalization. For more info: visit the State Board of Education website.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Advisory Committees

There are a couple District Policies regarding advisory committees, E08.00 and E08.01. E08.01 requires the appointing entity to respond to the recommendations from an advisory committee within three months. The Superintendent is the appointing entity for most advisory committees, and a number of them make their reports and recommendations at the end of the school year. If a committee made their report and recommendations in July, the Superintendent's response was due in October. The Superintendent, however, has yet to make some of these responses. They are a month overdue and approaching two months overdue.

There are, of course, a number of legitimate reasons that the Superintendent's response might be delayed - new Superintendent, new program managers, various outside evaluations, etc. Just the same, I would think that professionalism, courtesy, and respect would dictate that the Superintendent get in touch with these committees with an apology for the delay, an explanation for the delay, and a timetable for the response. If nothing else, the Superintendent should do it to keep the committee members positively disposed towards her. They are, for the most part, some pretty influential people in the District.

The responses that came from Mr. Manhas were terrible. They were essentially non-responsive. He would typically address only a few of the recommendations and, often, wouldn't address any of them. As more time passes, the expectations for the responses increases. If the Superintendent is going to take five months to draft a response it had better be comprehensive and specific.

These responses will be some of the first community engagement by the Superintendent and some of the first indications of the direction she wants to take the district. I think we're all looking forward to what she will do.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Schramie for Caprice

So I'm watching the local news one night and, at the end, there's Ken Schram. He's a newsman (to some degree) and he basically gets to do a semi-rant about whatever politicians/leaders do that bug him. To those he really disagrees with or whose actions he finds ridiculous, he gives out a statue dubbed the Schramie. So who did he give one to this week? None other than our director of Equity and Race Relations , Caprice Hollins.

He was upset about her sending a letter to teachers about Thanksgiving saying it was a time of grieving for some Native Americans and shouldn't be cast in a rosy glow. Okay, first when the first Thanksgiving did occur, there was obviously some outreach between the settlers and the Native Americans. (Before and after we became a country? Obviously, the way Native Americans were treated was a complete disaster on so many levels you'd have to be an idiot not to get that.) It seems like you could take Thanksgiving in the light of which it occurred or you could not. My main issue is that I feel for teachers wondering what the heck they can say about this event especially to elementary schoolchildren.

More to the point, if you go to the Equity and Race Relations website at the SPS website, there's a lot of sharp wording that makes you wonder if her goal is to scold or to help. Here's an example.

On the website under Learn, there's a link to "What is Cultural Awareness?" and, at the end of that, a link to a booklet called "I Can Fix It". That booklet is a coldly aggressive call to action for white people to wake and get themselves out of their white world. (CORRECTION: I erred in my initial post when I said that the booklet "I Can Fix It" contained the next sentence. The respect for teachers sentence was in the main page, called "What is Cultural Competence?" where the link to the booklet is. My apologies and thank you to Johnny C. for pointing this out.) Some of its items -like not expecting students to respect teachers when they first walk in the door - are, to me, flat out wrong. Yes, respect is earned (especially if you have a clueless or mean teacher) but the minute we say to our kids that you don't have to go into a classroom and respect your teacher, well, we are then asking for trouble. I cannot speak for teachers but I know how I would feel in that situation.

It also talks about not getting upset or trying to calm down a person of color who is expressing outrage over racism. I encountered that very situation at the last Board meeting where a guy who speaks about once a month and always, always frames everything through the lens of race and nearly always has something unkind/cruel to say even to members of his own race did it again (and had to be arrested to get him to stop). Everyone in that room wanted him to stop. It was not because we didn't feel he didn't have the right to speak or that he didn't have a point to make. But yelling and calling names is not the way to do it. Great orators don't need those tricks. And there's a difference between yelling and showing great passion.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of people in this district, this city, this state, this country who do not want to learn about other people and their struggles. Who do not want to face up to what we have done to Native Americans and African-Americans. Who do not get that centuries or decades of wrongful treatment cannot be easily undone. Who do not get what it means to have someone treat you differently on sight.

But I feel Dr. Hollins' is not really helping. I think her aggressive stances are making critics of this district have plenty to talk about. But maybe I'm not understanding what her work is really about or who her work is directed at. That might be the real problem.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Follow-up on School Closures

The implementation of the school closures has been quiet compared to the discussion of the plan. Personally, the only impact I have seen has been some new children in Pathfinder who came because their previous West Seattle elementary schools closed.

But I have been wondering about the schools and families more directly impacted, and would love to hear from families and teachers at those schools about what it has been like this year.

The Seattle PI today, has a piece that tracks the numbers: After 5 schools closed, 157 students left Seattle district, which certainly gives a partial picture of the impact, especially financially for the district. But I want to know more.

Stories anyone?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

WASL - Guest Column in the Times

This op-ed appeared in today's Times. It is by David Marshak, a respected educator in the College of Education at Seattle U. He details how Superintendent Bergeson's pass rate claims for the WASL are, by his measure, not true. He says at the end:

"Is this really a great achievement after 14 years and who knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars spent on testing? And, are our schools not pretty much where we were in 1992 before we started with this unproven yet very expensive obsession with standards and high-stakes testing?"

That is an understatement (posed as a question).

Kids Need to Read

This article appeared in the NY Times and says that kids appear to be reading less for fun and that reading and writing scores are declining. From the article:

"In his preface to the new 99-page report Dana Gioia, chairman of the endowment, described the data as “simple, consistent and alarming.”

Among the findings is that although reading scores among elementary school students have been improving, scores are flat among middle school students and slightly declining among high school seniors. These trends are concurrent with a falloff in daily pleasure reading among young people as they progress from elementary to high school, a drop that appears to continue once they enter college. The data also showed that students who read for fun nearly every day performed better on reading tests than those who reported reading never or hardly at all."

There is argument over whether this is indeed true. The study, this time, did include all kinds of reading including literary and pleasure. Here's what a comment from someone who disagrees:

"Timothy Shanahan, past president of the International Reading Association and a professor of urban education and reading at the University of Illinois at Chicago, suggested that the endowment’s report was not nuanced enough. “I don’t disagree with the N.E.A.’s notion that reading is important, but I’m not as quick to discount the reading that I think young people are really doing,” he said, referring to reading on the Internet. He added, “I don’t think the solutions are as simple as a report like this might be encouraging folks to think they might be.”

If Mr. Shanahan means by that, kids should read more then maybe that is simplistic. I do believe, however, that kids have many more distractions than ever before.

Testing Dangers

Yet another troubling story about testing and testing flaws. This from an article that appeared in the NY Times about an international test (which I had never heard of) that is given to students worldwide (including US students) that had not been proofread...by anybody. The pages were numbered incorrectly and students had been directed to "the question on page X" rather than the opposite page. From the article:

"The problem came on a test known as the Program for International Student Assessment that allows students’ proficiency to be compared with that of their international peers. It was administered to 5,600 American 15-year-olds last fall, as well as to students in the 30 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and in 27 less developed countries. Scores are scheduled for release next month."

It's serious because:

“We need to recognize that the testing industry is under immense pressure at a time when scores are being given immense importance,” said Thomas Toch, who wrote a report last year detailing the problems of the American testing industry for Education Sector, an independent policy group, where he is a co-director.

Conducted every three years, the international test focused on science literacy in 2006, but also included sections on reading and math. The problem with last fall’s test was that pages in the exam booklet were assigned incorrect numbers. As a result, questions referred students to texts, said to be “on the opposite page,” but in reality printed on a previous page."

Monday, November 19, 2007

FYI Meetings

The next meeting for the Seattle Council PTSA is Monday, Nov. 26th, from 6:30-7:00 p.m., social/light dinner and 7-9 p.m. General Meeting. It is at the John Stanford Center.

They will be talking with Tracy Libros from Enrollment and Planning on the Assignment Plan. There will also be a guest speaker, Ortencia Santana, from the Beacon Hill PTA about their approaches to increasing family involvement in multicultural communities.

Childcare provided. If you need childcare, call 364-7430 or info@seattlecouncilptsa.org.

Also, the Washington State Board of Education will have a Community Meeting on Improving Graduation Requirements on December 4th from 6-8 p.m. at the North Seattle Community College Cafeteria (in the College Center Building). (Start with making the math portion of the WASL about math and not reading and writing and drop either the senior project or community service. Any of that would help.)

Rethinking Homework

I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading about homework and the its impacts (both positive and negative) on kids of different ages. I believe there is too much homework assigned, in general, and that much of it does not have a positive learning impact.

Below are a few resources and quotes on the homework debate:

1) Parent Map's "Should we kill homework?"

"Should kids get to turn away from schoolwork when class time finishes? At Valley School, a private K-5 school in Seattle’s Madison Valley, the answer is yes. Barry Wright, formerly a fifth-grade teacher at Valley and now its director, says, “People don’t stop and think about the harm homework is doing. When you’re really in touch with kids, it seems apparent.” Valley teachers assign no homework until third grade, and even then Wright says it is “very light.” Minimal homework is a longstanding Valley policy. “We’re efficient during the [school] day — we’re good at it — and when kids go home we think they should just be kids,” Wright says. “Our mantra is that kids should leave our school loving school. Homework can kill that.”

Wright is troubled by the pressure homework exerts on parents, too. “When parents have to be teacher and [homework] enforcer, it puts a strain on the parent-child relationship,” he says. “Parents feel that if their kids don’t do their homework, they are bad parents.”"

2) Alfie Kohn's The homework myth: why our kids get too much of a bad thing

From the inside cover jacket: "Alfie Kohn systematically examines the usual defenses of homework --- that it promotes higher achivement, "reinforces" learning, and teaches study skills and responsibility. None of these assumptions, he shows, actually passes the test of research, logic or experience.

The available evidence indicates, for example, that homework provides absolutely no academic benefits for younger students. It also raises serious questions about whether homework is necessary for older students, and it challenges the belief that homework promotes independence and good work habits."

3) The current Seattle Public Schools homework policies (established in 1983)

Elementary School Homework
Middle School Homework
High School Homework

4) The introduction to Brita Butler-Wall's draft (below) for a revised Seattle Public Schools homework policy. She also sent me the draft policies for elementary, middles school, and high school, but they are too long to post here and, I believe, the most important parts are captured in her introduction.



HOMEWORK C11.00 Adopted JUN 1983 Former Code(s): G61.00

It is the policy of the Seattle School Board that meaningful and purposeful homework is essential for all students at all grade levels, as part of their educational experience.

Definition: Homework is a learning task is intended to accomplish course goals outside the classroom without immediate teacher supervision.

Purposes: Homework may be assigned to awaken student interest in a topic, to prepare for class discussion, to develop study skills and time management, to deepen understanding of a topic, to achieve fluency and automaticity through practice, to apply knowledge and skills, to pursue individual interests, and/or to integrate knowledge across courses and disciplines.

Teachers: Teachers who assign homework are responsible for clarifying objectives, due dates, and instructions and for monitoring and giving prompt feedback on completed assignments. Teachers should coordinate with other building staff before assigning major projects, to avoid scheduling overload. Assigning homework as punishment or as busywork is not permitted. Teachers are discouraged from using homework to compensate for poorly-executed lessons or poor time-management.

Students: Students are responsible for completing all homework assignments and turning them in on time using the specified format, for negotiating for an extension of deadlines as needed, and for seeking help from classmates, teacher, and family members in accessing resources, as needed.

Parents: Parents and guardians are encouraged to develop a conducive environment for learning at home, to provide support for their student, to give feedback to the teacher, and to encourage the student to bring homework questions and concerns to the attention of the teacher. Parents and guardians are discouraged from giving direct assistance with homework since this skews the feedback for the teacher on the effectiveness of the instruction.

Amount: The amount of homework assigned will vary by developmental age of the student (maximum 10 min./day per grade total for all subjects), the topic, and the objectives. There is no maximum amount for high school students; however, it is expected that students will be able to balance homework with family and community responsibilities and opportunities to develop into well-rounded adults through out-of-school experiences with arts, sports, recreation, independent reading, and reflection. Homework assignments should help transition high school students into the rigors of higher education.

Consistent homework standards will be established within each individual building following procedures established by the district and best practices and will be communicated in writing to parents, guardians, and students.

Alternative Schools Matter

This was a great article that appeared in the NY Times about a public alternative high school in Great Neck, NY that, to my limited knowledge, sounds a lot like Nova, one of the alternative high schools here in Seattle. Nova has one of the worst buildings in the District (and it's a badge I think they wear proudly) but they do good work for kids who need a different way of learning. And, Nova students produce results, doing well on the WASL and many of them going to 4-year colleges and universities.

"Nationwide, alternative schools and programs are not closely tracked — the last count was 10,900 by federal education officials in 2001 — but some estimates have put the number at more than 12,000 when private schools are included. Districts from Farmington, Conn., to Vista, Calif., have started alternative schools in the past three years, while many others are considering them, including the Roslyn district on Long Island, which has not had an alternative school for more than a decade.

“The reality is that every school district could use a Village School because one size does not fit all,” said Dan Brenner, an assistant Roslyn superintendent who was principal of the Village School from 1993 to 2000."

I have to believe that Seattle probably has more alternative schools than other districts around the country given the numbers stated in the article. There must have been a willingness in the '80s (when a lot of our alternatives were developed) to listen to parents. It's interesting that of the alternatives produced later on - AAA, New School and Center School - one (AAA) is still classified as alternative (but has not been either successful or popular and is unlikely to retain its all-city draw status, if indeed, we come out of the assignment plan with that still in place), New School was developed by an outside foundation (and has been able to shake off the "alternative" tag even though it seems more alternative than most schools) and Center School, because of its size and focus, seems alternative, is classified as "non-traditional" and wants to get the distance tie-breaker taken off the table for its assignments (it could happen but unfortunately I also think transportation could be taken off the table as well).

ADHD and Future Academic Success

This NY Times article seems like a hopeful view of the possibilities for kids with ADD. From the article:

"Educators and psychologists have long feared that children entering school with behavior problems were doomed to fall behind in the upper grades. But two new studies suggest that those fears are exaggerated.

One concluded that kindergartners who are identified as troubled do as well academically as their peers in elementary school. The other found that children with attention deficit disorders suffer primarily from a delay in brain development, not from a deficit or flaw.

Experts say the findings of the two studies, being published today in separate journals, could change the way scientists, teachers and parents understand and manage children who are disruptive or emotionally withdrawn in the early years of school. The studies might even prompt a reassessment of the possible causes of disruptive behavior in some children."

One side note is that they found that math ability, at 5 or 6 not preschool, is tied to how well a child will do by 5th grade. This effect was found in boys and girls and well-off and poorer families. The take on that issue is that better math instruction in preschool would help. (But that brings up how many kids have preschool and of those who do, how many get math instruction?)