Sunday, February 25, 2007

Race-Based Enrollment Tie-Breakers

On my Report Card for Seattle Public Schools post, both Brita Butler-Wall and an anoymous poster asked what communication I wanted or expected from the district about the race-based enrollment tie-breaker case that is currently being considered by the Supreme Court.

What I wanted to learn was how important the district thinks the results of this case are and why.
  • The only district perspective I could find on the case was from a district attorney, Shannon McMinimee, who said in a Seattle PI article in December that school district officials haven't decided whether they would resume using the tiebreaker. If, as this suggest, the district is not necessarily going to try to use race again as a tie-breaker, then why is the district spending millions of dollars in this lawsuit?

  • If the district believes re-instituting the race-based tie breaker is crucial, then how can it defend the proposed move towards less choice in a smaller, more restricted geographic area?

  • In a Seattle PI article, James Kelly, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle said that "the debate over using tiebreakers "is really secondary to the importance of having all 10 high-performing schools," he said. "And we don't have that now." What is the district reaction to this argument?

  • Danny Westneat, in a Seattle Times column Seeing our way to diversity, suggests an idea I would like to see explored: the income-based tie breaker. Is the district considering this as an option?

So Brita and others, that is the sort of thing I had hoped to read from the district about the Supreme Court case. Can you enlighten me further?


Take a look at an interesting piece of reading on this topic; a debate between former Seatte superintendent Joseph Olchefske (who tried to attend the Supreme Court hearing but couldn't get a ticket) and Roger Clegg from the Center for Equal Opportunity on race-based school assignments.

And if you want to pretend you were able to attend the Supreme Court hearing, visit this very cool site Eric Baer sent to me, which has both the audio and the written transcript linked together.

Finally, for some necessary background on what has happened in Seattle schools regarding race in the past, read HistoryLink Essay: Busing in Seattle: A Well-Intentioned Failure.


Brita said...

hi beth,

we want to preserve the right of local electeds to use the racial tie-breaker if that is what they choose to do, seattle has not used it for several years, waiting for the courts to make a final decision. in the meantime, we have been looking at a variety of options and staff is bringing us some analysis and recs this spring regarding our entire student assgt. plan.

since we are currently in litigation on this issue, i really cannot say more. you may be interested in seeing the list of all who have filed amicus briefs on both sides.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's a tasty tidbit from Joseph Olchefske's side of the racial tie-breaker debate:

"I am also not aware of any research that suggests that a diverse classroom does a better job of reducing the achievement gap. I have always detested the not-so-subtle racism in the argument that is sometimes made in support of school integration that says that the achievement of African American students will somehow improve by being in schools with higher performing white students."

I find this intriguing because there are a number of people who oppose gifted programs by suggesting that the achievement of non-gifted students will somehow improve by being in schools with higher performing gifted students. The parallel is uncanny. I think Mr. Olchefske has given me a new perspective on inclusive education. One that equates it with a racist perspective.

But is it a racist perspective? Is Don Alexander a racist?

When Don Alexander says that Black students get a better education when White students are in the room, he attributes the improvement not so much to the actions or the presence of the White students, but to the additional resources and attention that follows White students. Resources and attention that is not paid to Black students. When White families demand educational improvement or changes of school leadership, he says, they get it. When Black families demand it, he says, they don't. So he wants integrated classrooms so the Black students will benefit from the political power of White families.

I suspect that he would be satisfied to have the resources, attention and political power without the integration.

I don't think Don is racist. I think he is a realist responding to a racist world.

anonymous said...

I don't think that additional "resources and attention" just happen to follow white students??? I think that they follow the affluent. There are many more affluent white families than there are black families in Seattle. The affluent are often better educated (lawyers, activistst, etc), have more resources at their disposal, contact media, and are LOUD. They have the time and resources to advocate for change, and demand more from the district. The loudest voices get attention. Is it fair?? NO, of course not. Is it racist??? No, of course not. It is hard to get perspective in Seattle because most white neighborhoods are middle or upper class. But take a city like Miami Florida, where my family lives. There is a huge variance in socio-economics within the white communities. There are very low income trailer park communities and there are and very very affluent ocean front, gated, communities. Again, I'm just comparing the white neighborhoods. Same district. Do you think for a minute that the schools in both communities are equal?? Get the same test scores?? Have the same fundraising?? Of course not. Is it racist?? Of course not. I absolutely disagree with the racist theory. Don Alexander IS a racist. It is appalling to see him getting recognition for his divisive, offensive and insulting remarks. I think an income based tie breaker would be much much more beneficial than a race based tie breaker. Charlie you are usually right on, but you have veered away from reality on this one.

Charlie Mas said...

I would prefer an income-based tie-breaker as well. It would be legal, it would directly address the gap, and it would contribute to equity in the distributions of resources.

That said, I don't think anyone can say whether the District is responding to the White families' wealth or their Whiteness. It is impossible to determine if they are ignoring Black families due to their poverty or their pigment. Maybe it is something else entirely. Maybe the determining factor is a community's collective sense of political efficacy or their bureaucratic navigation skills. In a city like Seattle where race and affluence (as well as efficacy and bureaucratic skills) are highly correlated, I'm not sure what difference it makes.

It pretty much comes out the same.

I lack the expertise, the tools, and the data to do that sort of attribution. Even if I could do the attribution, what would be the point?

Anonymous, you may be right. I suspect you are. But is it really any better, any more honorable or noble, for the District staff to say "We didn't neglect your needs because you're Black; we neglected your needs because you're poor." Should we imagine that it would matter to the students or their families?

Hamilton International Middle School may be the one with student demographics that most closely resemble those of the District as a whole. A significant contributor to this balance are the number of students from the Southeast Region who are bussed to Hamilton. However, these students will no longer be able to gain access to the school after Hamilton is renovated with BEX III. They will no longer be able to get into the school because - under the District's current plans - there won't be room for them there.

You can say that the students are being excluded from Hamilton based on their home addresses and distance from the building, and not due to their race or income, but the results are the same.

The real issue will remain: why do these students have to travel to Hamilton to get the education they seek? Why can't they get it at Mercer or Aki Kurose?

Jet City mom said...

my experience has been the assumption that automatically whites "are privileged" and better prepared for school, and blacks are "disadvantaged", hurts all kids.

I see minority parents having to fight in the buildings to get their kids higher level courses & to get the teachers to have high expectations.
Lot of assumptions by "liberal white teachers', that while I am sure they mean well, they aren't doing the kids any favors, by not holding them to same standards.

Conversely, students who are percieved as "affluent" , are held to higher standard and not given as much help. (even if the only category which they meet is the one Don Alexander is so fond of using & that is living north of the ship canal & being "white")

I also see schools where minority parents feel that they are "in the minority" (even if not so in the district), they are less likely to be involved, and their children don't do as well, necessarily.

I have been arguing for years, that the district could assign students by socio economic factors and weight resources towards those students, and they wouldn't have had to spend the millions of dollars on legal fees toward a decision that they may not abide by, and may not acheive their goals

It isn't an educational decision to take the tie breaker to the Supreme Court, it is a political one.

anonymous said...
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anonymous said...

OK this is going to sound elitist, and I must say that I am glad that I can remain anonymous. I looked at Hamilton for my middle school son, and I felt like the teachers were teaching to a very low bar. The academics are just not where they should be. Test scores are awful, especially compared to its NE neighbor, Eckstein. I suspect that this is because of the diverse range of the student body. Did I choose Hamilton for my child. No, I did not. Am I a racist. No, I am not. My child is biracial. I would love to have a diverse school. But, I will not compromise academics. If all schools become mediocre what will we have left? Many more families fleeing the district. Thats what. Me included.

Anonymous said...

I think this comes back to the same thing again - instead of concentrating on sending kids all over town to the better affluent schools, we should be concentrating on bringing up ALL schools. If Hamilton test scores are low and the teachers are not setting standards high enough, because the student body may not be as enthused about academics - that needs to change rather than trying to overcrowd the schools that are successful. If you make all the schools good, the schools may not be as diverse, but a lot of schools would become more diverse for a lot more families would consider public vs private who live near the currently now not so great schools...and though diversity is great, I think our number one goal should be improving academics at all schools and if parents in the less privileged schools are not advocating for their children, district officials should be.

On the diversity issue, when we were looking for houses a few years ago, we looked at a beautiful house in the Bryant neighborhood. An African American family lived there and the real estate agent told us they moved there so their kids could go to school in NE Seattle due to the high academics. I asked why they were moving out of the wonderful house in a good school area, and the agent told us that they were moving to Mt. Baker because they wanted to have more African Americans in their community. This family could afford to live in an affluent neighborhood and chose to not be a minority. Maybe if we make the schools better and raise the bar for these families with less money, their Academic outlook will improve so much more and thus more families of different races can afford to live where ever they want and possibly, neighborhoods would become more diverse.

Anonymous said...

On the issue of using income as a tie-breaker, I recall former Board member Don Nielson trying to change the enrollment plan to use it instead of race. Former Board member Michael Preston said he felt it was wrong because he felt, as an African-American, that it was still about race and not poverty. And, that by trying to use income, the Board was ignoring the inherent racism in the district. I don't know that I agree, I just put this out there as past leadership discussion. (Mr. Nielson's motion failed.)

I listened to the oral arguments before the Supreme Court and came away shaking my head. The District hired a law firm and put forth a lawyer who was not up to the task. It was very painful to listen to him because the district had a good argument and its enrollment plan did work in both directions (helping minority populations at all schools). But this lawyer did not frame the argument well and, unbelievably, did not answer questions directly. The justices asked him 3 times (!) to answer a question and he just kept dancing around it. Supreme Court 101; answer the question you are asked. I think the district will lose solely because the lack of ability of the lawyer who represented them.

TAF's proposed academy would seek to control the makeup of its population through the use of a racial component(this was on their website). Meaning, they want the school to be majority minority. I get that they are seeking to help the population of the community where their academy might be but the district will still run into problems attempting to use a racial tiebreaker.

I think Charlie raised some good questions. I wonder if most teachers think that students that come in prepared to learn ( because they had preschool and/or are more motivated either through interest or parent push)help drive the entire class to be learners.

Charlie Mas said...
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anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Madison was left out of the previous numbers. Also AE1 numbers skew the north end numbers because many of the students at the school don't take the WASL. If they did, it is likely those numbers would be much higher. This isn't to say that north end schools are better but just that you need to include all middle schools and K-8s to have an accurate count.

What I have heard from parents and administrators in the south end is that parents don't feel their students have access to good programs (believing that the north end does better because of programs?) and safety issues particularly at Aki.

Charlie Mas said...

I am intrigued by data and statistics, so I gathered some and disaggregated it.

I have the 2006 7th grade WASL pass rates for all of the ten traditional middle schools. I also reviewed the pass rates with and without the self-contained advanced learning programs at each of the schools that have them.

Any students from the southeast region can enroll at Hamilton, McClure or Meany and get yellow bus transportation there. So the rates we should compare are the rates between the southeast region schools and Hamilton and McClure.

If your family lives in the Southeast region and you judge schools largely on WASL pass rates, your choices with transportation are Mercer, Aki Kurose, Hamilton, McClure and Meany. You might review the data and see this:

School / # / Read / Writ / Math

Aki Kurose / 189 / 29 / 54 / 16
Mercer / 236 / 53 / 63 / 39
Hamilton / 236 / 50 / 51 / 39
McClure / 212 / 62 / 67 / 54
Meany / 133 / 34 / 40 / 23

Right off, judged on this narrow criteria, Aki doesn't look like a good choice and the pass rates don't justify a trip to Meany. But Mercer appears comparable to Hamilton. McClure would probably be your first choice.

But four of these five schools have Spectrum programs that skew the results. What if your child didn't qualify for Spectrum?

Wouldn't you want to see the non-Spectrum numbers for these schools?

School / # / Read / Writ / Math
Aki Kurose / 184 / 29 / 53 / 15
Mercer / 231 / 52 / 63 / 38
Hamilton / 216 / 46 / 47 / 33
McClure / 178 / 54 / 62 / 45
Meany / 133 / 34 / 40 / 23

Aki and Meany don't look any better, but now McClure doesn't look any better than Mercer and Hamilton actually looks worse. Unless you're in Spectrum, it hardly seems worth the trip. I would just ride the bus as far as Mercer.

Check out the Spectrum scores:

Aki Kurose / 5 / * / * / *
*too few to report
Mercer / 5 / * / * / *
Hamilton / 20 / 90 / 90 / 100
McClure / 34 / 100 / 94 / 100

It's kind of astonishing, but 34 of the 80 passing math scores at McClure (42% of them) came from Spectrum students who make up 16% of the population.

Neither of the middle schools in the southeast region has enough Spectrum students to form a viable program. Together, however, they might. There are 180 Spectrum students in the Central region and they are all at one school, Washington. There are fewer than 60 in the southeast region and the District spreads them between two schools. It is unclear why the District spreads them so thin. Some southeast students may be going north to participate in Spectrum. The WASL pass rates don't present another compelling reason to go.

Now I'm not sure what this says about African-American students. They comprise 24% of the enrollment at Mercer, a majority Asian school (55%). Aki Kurose, on the other hand, is 46% African-American. Meany is 56% African-American.

If I were Don Alexander, I don't think this data would cause me to move off my position. You can aggregate schools north and south of the Ship Canal but that's not really the choice that people are being presented with. If we're going to use WASL pass rates to measure the District's commitment to communities, I'd say that Don has a point.

Of course, the WASL pass rates are not a good proxy for the District's commitment to a school community. They do, of course influence enrollment decisions. I would say that based on this narrow criteria I would choose Mercer for a non-Spectrum student. Especially since they would have the opportunity to be placed by the school into the Spectrum class.

I don't see a need to go to Hamilton unless my child were in Spectrum and I valued participation in that program so much as to make the bus trip worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Where do you get any support for your claim that the District has spent millions on this case? I listened to NPR the day of the hearing, once of the reasons why the District is fighting the case is that if they loose, the will have to pay a large downtown firm the fees that they would have charged the parents group.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

First off, let me say that I really enjoy this blog. I think there are some extremely intelligent opinions out there, which I sincerely appreciate and can relate to. However, what I am about to say is echoed by MANY people that I talk to daily.

I have to honestly say that I am very concerned for the future of my children in SPS. Both of my children attend an "affluent" (although I chuckle at using that word to describe our physically crumbling school) elementary school. According to many on here, my children are getting a superior education to SO MANY other kids by sheer virture of where we live, or what we have. OK, fine. The reality is, I CHOOSE to send my kids to a public school (and it's not even our neighborhood school if truth be told).

I am SICK of hearing that I am an "elitist" or "racist" or whatever other terms are being thrown around because of the public school I send my kids to.

Trust me, if I were truly an elitist or racist I would have my kid in a private school so fast it would make your head spin. BUT I CHOOSE not to, because I support public school, and I believe in the system, and I believe that if parents like me didn't choose public, the system would simply collapse (please reference the Los Angeles Unified School District).

Bottom line is, your problem here is not the "affluent" parents who already send their kids to SPS, but the parents who have grown disillusioned by the continuing pandering to the lowest common denominator in SPS, and have chosen to send their kids to private school.

I personally know many parents who forego many conveniences and luxuries to send their kids to private school, yet somehow public school "affluent" (and again I have to chuckle at how that so does not describe my family's lifestyle) parents get vilified for wanting the best for our children in SPS.

The reason I chose to comment on this thread is because I am a "minority" (although not one recognized by SPS) proud Seattle Public Schools grad who does not support race based enrollment tie-breakers.

Thank you for reading.

Jet City mom said...

Sorry I was carried away with the zeros. I meant to say Seattle has spent $325,000 on this case since June of 2006.

anonymous said...

I will never settle for a mediocre school for my child. Nobody should. I will never stop challenging our school and this district to be the best they can be. I am not an elitist, and I am not a racist, but I want what is best for my child. If enrollment changes and I can not get my son into what I percieve to be a good school, I will go private, and we will eat beans and rice for a few years. As long as Seattle Schools have choice nobody should have to send their child to an underperforming school. We can make all the excuses that we want to for parents who just don' care, but while there is choice, there is a way out of a lousy neighborhood school. Stop making excuses for low income families, they can make wise choices for their children too. App is open to all who qualify, Spectrum is open to all who qualify, Alternative schools are open to all who qualify. With Bus service. More than that, schools all over this district are open to all if you are willing to drive. And, before you say "you can't get in", think again. You can. People do all the time. If we all fought for strong schools and didn't settle for less, the awful schools would have to improve or be closed. I hate when people make excuses for low income people. We lived in the Central area for a long time, and knew a lot of parents who wouldnt even bother to go to the neighborhood schools open house. They just enrolled their student sight unseen. They really didn't care. It was like free daycare, in fact one of the parents actually said that to me. They NEVER went into school to volunteer, and there was no fundraising. And, they were happy. If that menatlity exists, and it does, we will continue to have awful schools. I will not be part of them. I moved up to the NE for better school choices. My home here, cost no more than my home in the Central Area. It can be done. Please stop making excuses for people who just don't care. I know there are the exceptions, so please don't follow this email with "I know someone" , I'm talking about the hundreds of families enrolled in the schools with math test scores with a 7% pass rate???? They apparantly don't care. I do. That doesn't make me an elitist. It makes me an involved parent who wants the best for their child. By the way, the "best" schools in Seattle are still just above the bar. We have a long way to go. Who wants 30 kids in their childs class?? Who wants to have their child ride a bus for over an hour each way to get to a "good" school?? Who wants it?? Not me.

Charlie Mas said...

If you go to the school test scores section of the District web site and check out the 4-year summary WASL pass rates, you will find the Spectrum and APP pass rates broken out. The page gives the pass rates for the school, district and state as a whole grade by grade and year by year. This page also breaks out the pass rates by gender, ethnicity, Free and Reduced Lunch, Special Education, Bilingual, 2+ years in the same school, and 2+ years in the District.

There is a lot of data available on the District web site. Oddly, the District staff rarely does any meaningful analysis of that data. Although the data for groups of less than ten is not directly provided, the numbers can often be inferred and sometimes the pass rates as well.

For an example, see the
report for Denny.

Brendan Works said...

The issue of race and schooling is complex, and so controversial that I am reluctant to weigh in. But here are some observations.

There is good, peer-reviewed research showing that a racially diverse classroom has a positive effect on student achievement. The original Brown case was supported by studies showing the extremely damaging effects of segregation on minority children. This doesn’t mean that the opposite is necessarily true—that a desegregated classroom has a positive effect. Since Brown, however, race and student performance has been one of the most researched issues in education reform. So it’s surprising that Joseph Olchefske said he was unaware of such research.

Here a few quick examples:

Student Diversity, Choice, and School Improvement by Charles V. Willie, et al.

“The Impact of Racial and Ethnic Diversity on Educational Outcomes: Cambridge, MA School District”


Here’s some research specifically on the Louisville case:


This research demonstrates, among other things, that a diverse classroom has many benefits. I’d be happy to summarize these articles and books in more detail if people are interested. But the key conclusion of these an other studies is, even controlling for income, a racially diverse school, will, all else being equal, provide a better education for all students of all backgrounds. (All else is never equal, but that’s the way researchers design their studies to isolate variables.)

Are there studies that disagree with these conclusions? Absolutely. There are no settled issues in academic scholarship.

Do the people writing these studies have an agenda? Certainly. Any social scientist will tell you there is no such thing as objective truth. Several of studies in this area do rely on large-sample, carefully controlled statistical analysis, which can sometimes mitigate certain biases, though statistical studies are only as good as their data, assumptions, and methodology.

Are there other factors that also contribute to positive educational outcomes? Again, the answer is yes.

The question for us, as parents and activists, is what strategies we want to support to bring about improvement in our schools? Now that is a far more complex issue, for another day. But there is certainly evidence that more diverse schools are better schools.

That, of course, is only a small part of the discussion of race as a tie-breaker. There are legal issues, such as what is a “compelling” interest under the Bakke decision. There are moral issues, raised by many in this debate, such as does using a racial tie-breaker create a society that makes invidious distinctions between and within communities. But on the narrow issue of student performance, there is certainly evidence that diversity has educational value on its on terms. Will it fix our problematic schools? No way. Does it help them? Maybe. Does it hurt their performance? Probably not. Is it worth all the hassle of a Supreme Court case? Depends on who you ask.

Charlie Mas said...

I should probably say here that I do not believe that schools or students are underperforming due to racism or due to classism or due to any other discrimination against groups of people.

This may be a particular blindness of mine, but where others see pure true Evil, I usually just see a more garden variety of laziness or selfishness. Sometimes I just see a different set of values at work.

I believe that the primary determinant of a student's academic achievement is the active involvement in that child's education by an adult in the child's home. There is a wealth of data and research to support this conclusion.

There are a number of reasons why a family does or doesn't support their children's education or the extent to which they do it. Economics certainly is a factor. It is bloody expensive to take your kid to the zoo or the aquarium. The library may be free, but you have to have the time and freedom to go, and that is also something of an economic luxury. Preschool, even if it is affordable, requires transportation. There is no doubt in my mind that there are a tremedous number of economic barriers to family support for education. These things can be done, but they require a greater sacrifice for a low-income family than for an affluent one.

Beyond money issues, there could also be language barriers for immigrant families.

Finally, there are cultural differences. Some cultures, mine included, put a HUGE value on education. It comes somewhere after breathing and before food, shelter and clothing. Obviously, if some cultures put a higher value on education, then there are other cultures that put a lower value on education. I'm not making a judgement; I'm not saying that these cultures are bad or misguided. Not at all. I'm just saying that different cultures have different values.

You cannot say that some cultures put a higher value on education - and we know that some do - without tacitly also indicating that other cultures put a lower value on education. "Higher" or even "high" are relative modifiers. Nothing can be "higher" unless there is something else for it to be higher than. Consequently, that other thing must, by necessity, be "lower".

I am trying to write very carefully here because this is where I often, undeservedly, get called a racist. I don't make a judgement about cultural values. I'm not saying that my culture's values are right and good and that other cultures are wrong and bad insofar as they differ. I have no such feelings at all. My culture is but one among many. Also, I'm not saying that everyone in a culture absolutely shares that culture's values completely. Of course there is variation within cultures. In fact, there are sub-cultures within cultures. Some of these sub-cultures directly oppose their mainstream cultures. I fully understand the limits of generalized statements. I also see their utility so long as the appropriate caveats, disclaimers, and disclosures are presumed.

Sorry to have to include paragraphs like that, but folks don't always assume positive intent.

So why do some students and schools underperform? Underperform, of course, is a relative term. I would say because the students are not as well supported at home.

Why are they less supported at home? I would say through a combination of economic and cultural factors. In addition, their families may just be lazy or selfish.

What can we - as a society - do about that?

The first thing we can do is identify and overcome for those economic barriers.

For example, we need to identify and overcome the economic barriers to pre-school participation. Not only do we need to make it affordable, we need to make it accessible and we need to effectively promote participation. In addition to charities, I think the City should take the lead on this. The District should, of course, cooperate and coordinate. Read the recent report on the effectiveness of the Families and Education Levy and you will find plans for pre-schools in schools. You will also see that these efforts specifically target low-income, minority and bilingual students. They acknowledge the ineffectiveness of their outreach and they intend to improve. It's really very encouraging.

Similar efforts can be made to identify and overcome economic barriers to access for other enriching experiences, such as the zoo, the aquarium, the theatre, storytime, libraries, and books. In each case, someone needs to step forward and make that effort. In each case, there is an appropriate person or organization who should do the work. As individuals, we can encourage those organizations to make this work a priority and we can help them work together and to learn from each other.

If we lower the threshold for economic and cultural barriers, it will lower the threshold for the lazy and selfish as well.

I fear that nothing can be done to alter cultural values about education and that it would be arrogant and insulting for anyone to even suggest it. I see no benefit in telling people that they are bad parents if they don't do this or that in support of their children's education. That said, there are a number of well-proven techniques for getting families involved in their children's education. Parties at the school, performances at the school, sports at the school, etc.

The next thing is to make damn sure that the schools absolutely establish and maintain high expectations for all students regardless of their background. When teachers don't do this, I don't think they are evil or racist or classist. I just think they are lazy or cowardly. Lazy because it is WORK to get kids up to Standard. Teaching is a lot more work than babysitting. Some of it is grim. It's a lot of work to read and grade essays. Cowardly because they don't want to face the inevitable confrontations around failing students.

We need to reduce that workload and remove that confrontation.

I don't know how to reduce the workload of grading papers other than to reduce class size. I do know that we can make the work less demanding by making sure that students don't enter a class unless they are ready and able to succeed with the curriculum. That means you don't have students who haven't completed the third grade curriculum in a fourth grade class.

Not only will this ease the teacher's job, it will reduce the behavior issues in the class (caused by students acting out when they can't do the work) and allow the teachers to support student work beyond Standards. The Standards will finally be a floor rather than a ceiling.

So what will happen to the student who has not completed the third grade curriculum by June of the third grade?

Holding them back doesn't work, but promoting them doesn't work either. They should be diverted into a different program. They should be temporarily diverted into an extended, intensive, and enriched program designed to accelerate their progress, get them quickly up to Standard, and then return them to a regular classroom.

If we want to close the Academic Achievement gap by bringing every student up to Standard, doesn't it make sense to find the specific students who are not working at Standard and accelerate them until they are at Standards?

This program would have to be a K-10 program (we don't have Standards for students in grades 11 and 12). So a student could be diverted if they don't meet the kindergarten GLEs. I'm dead serious about that. One of our greatest crimes is deferring remedial education until students are in high school.

I have written a description of such a program before and would be happy to do so again. Frankly, I wouldn't care if the District didn't adopt the sort of program I envision so long as they adopted some kind of plan.

I honestly believe that we CAN make every school a high quality school. But first we need to want to do it. Second we need to have a plan to do it. Third we need to implement that plan.

We have not done it to date because the District is in denial about the need to do it, the District has no plan to do and no ability to make a plan, and the District is utterly incapable - structurally and culturally - of implementing any plan that they might devise.

I hope my points were not lost in my lack of brevity.

anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Charlie, thanks for your honesty and willingness to provide some possible solutions.

To weigh in, Charlie is beyond right about being pro-active EARLY in a child's academic career. You do no one - not the teachers, the parents or the child - a favor by moving them on if they are not ready. Because of the terrible aspects of being "held back" there should be an intensive support program to get children on track and back into the next grade level as soon as possible. I have done tutoring at the elementary and middle school levels and it is so much harder (and discouraging) at the middle school level. The pressure is great to move those middle schoolers onto high school but then what?

I wish that some foundation, instead of wanting to start a school, would want to start a tutoring program, say at the 10 lowest performing elementary schools, for a period of 3 years. You would probably reach more students in a bigger, more sustainable way than just in one school. The outcomes could be tremendous.

Anonymous said...


It already exists, serving seven schools in SE Seattle with high a proportion of FRL and low WASL schools.


From their site:

In the 2006-7 school year, Powerful Schools serves 2,136 students in seven public elementary schools in Southeast Seattle.

Powerful Schools' core programs zero in on particular aspects of student growth, applying expertise, close involvement, and the necessary resources. With the goal of increasing the likelihood that all children will become engaged in learning, these programs train teachers, pair mentors with at-risk students, provide one-to-one tutoring, and create engaging after-school classes for all members of the community...

Will it be enough to turn the schools around? Probably not by itself.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to Anonymous for calling Powerful Schools to my attention. I had certainly heard of it before but thought it was about writing, not reading. I did go to their website and was impressed. I'm surprised that for a program that has existed since 1991, it isn't better known. When I was on the CAC and talking to people about programs, not one parent in the south end mentioned it.

Beth Bakeman said...

It may be, Melissa, that you thought Powerful Schools was about writing because the program that has received most visibility lately is Powerful Writers. Parents in schools affiliated with Powerful Schools were trained, and there are readings by student writers in the Columbia City Starbucks on a regular basis.

When I was in graduate school from 1992 to 1994, I had the pleasure to work with Powerful Schools, writing my degree project on parent involvement efforts through that organization. I also recently interviewed to be on the Board of Powerful Schools and while I was not selected, I hope to stay connected to the organization in the future. I believe Powerful Schools is an excellent example of a non-profit doing good work in the schools despite all the challenges our schools face.

anonymous said...
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Charlie Mas said...

Seattle Public Schools has promotion/non-promotion policies for elementary, middle school, and high school students. The policies are atrociously out-of-date (they make reference to a test that hasn't been given in years) and they have been totally ignored.

Director Butler-Wall, in her new role as Chair of the Student Learning Committee, has committed her self and her committee to reviewing and revising (as necessary) all of the District Policies related to teaching and learning. The obsolete promotion/non-promotion Policies are sure to be addressed. It would be well for the District to add an intervention Policy such as this.

Brita said...


there are over 160 policies relating to student learning alone. i have set a goal of reviewing/reviding 20% this year and strongly encourage the board to keep up this pace. All policies would have been reviewed in the next 5 years and then the board should make policy review a regular part of its work so that we don't end up with such a huge backlog.

the slc has identified the following as our priority areas--special ed, discipline, and bilingual policies.

we welcome input from all.

Anonymous said...

very good reading: from harvard school of public health. published jan 2007.


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