Saturday, March 31, 2007


Two New Educational Programs Begin Outreach to Families, Teachers and Underserved Communities

Two new educational outreach programs premiered this year -- the first to increase access to information and learning for teachers and underserved communities, and the second with the same mission for parents and students.

The Office of the Educational Ombudsman is a new public service agency within the governor’s office and is not part of the public school system. Ombudsman Adie Simmons and her staff are neutral problem-solvers and mediators who help students, parents and legal guardians understand how the public school system works, how to find services and resources and what to do when conflict happens.

For more information, call the ombudsman’s office at 866-297-2597. They are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Translation and interpretation services are available. They recently launched their Web site.

The next new group is called the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning (CISL). Under OSPI, it opened its offices last year and just launched a new Web site as well.

The primary goal of this program is to increase access to information and resources and to improve learning and teaching. CISL also promotes academic success and equality for all students, specifically those in underserved communities.

To reach CISL Director Janet Hayakawa, call 360-725-6165 or e-mail her at janet.hayakawa@k12.wa.us.

Longer School Day

The NY Times had an interesting article about a longer school day at different school districts throughout the country. From the article, it sounds like a largely East coast idea. The main problem is not, as you might think, pushback from parents (although there is some) but the cost. It simply costs districts more. Some districts are toying with the idea of just schools with failing test scores (but can you imagine how the kids at those schools would feel if they knew they had a longer school day because of their scores and other kids got out earlier?).

I wouldn't mind a longer school day for elementary/middle school but my preference would be that either remedial classes for those who needed it and/or homework help (for all) and/or enrichment (for all). I think many parents would be grateful to know their child came home from school with their homework done and the child had a music/drama/art enrichment class.

A couple of days later, the letter below was printed:

"When are they going to wake up and get it right? They can make the school day 24 hours if they like, and nothing will substantially change.

I taught elementary school for 30 years and noticed that as the school day progresses only one thing basically happens to kids: they get tired!

If you really want to improve public education, rather than increasing the length of the school day, it would be better to decrease class size. Teachers would then have more of a chance to administer individual instruction during class time, to all children. There wouldn’t be many chances to tune out, and more work of real value would be accomplished.

Children need time to be children. They’re not going to get it in a nine-hour school day.

Those who hate school will only hate it more. Most of the other children will be burned out by the time they reach high school. And when will there be time to do homework?

Kathleen Crisci"

I think she has a point. Parents would be much happier (indeed, this is the number one reason I hear from private school parents as to why they want their child in private school) if they knew their child's class size was 17-20. Even with I-728, I haven't seen a lot of class sizes go down. I'm not sure any of us have ever understood how it passed, with its stated goal, and yet, we still have larger class sizes. A smaller class size benefits BOTH teacher and student.

So, longer school day or smaller class size? Which would help more? Or, is there still a better goal out there?

Times opinion piece

Lynne Varner of the Times had a column recently, Grad Requirement Needs Fine Tuning about Seattle School district requiring 3 classes of occupational ed/career and technical education (the state requirement is 2 classes). Her concern is that music can't be part of it. This is a problem because when you have music at nearly all the high schools (with two of them being national powerhouses for their musical programs) and kids are trying to work in 4 years of math/foreign language, AP. etc., you just plain run out of time in the day. One mom went to bat for her daughter, arguing in favor of "cross-crediting" where a subject such as drama or music can be substituted and got a waiver but that's an anomoly. It's interesting because the state is willing to work with the district but the district, acccording to Ms. Varner, seems unwilling to consider it.

Given that research shows that kids who take music do better in some subjects (math comes to mind), should the district be encouraging participation in music or should music just be considered enrichment?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Collection of Evidence

I attended a seminar on Saturday on this alternative to passing the WASL. Since I am a math teacher, I attended the math section, so I cannot speak to the reading or writing, but here is what I saw.

The easiest way for a student to receive their CAA (Certificate of Academic Achievement) is to pass the WASL. The requirements and the rigor required to have a Collection of Evidence (COE) is very demanding and time-consuming. This is just not a “portfolio”. There are very specific math content strands and math process strands that have to be met. The content strands are: Number Sense, Measurement, Geometric Sense, Probability and Statistics and Algebraic Sense. The process strands are Solves Problems/Reasons Logically, Communicates Understanding and Makes Connections.

This all sounds simple enough until you dig into the details. As an example, Ratio and Proportion are an element of Number Sense. What you have to demonstrate is a proficient manner is the ability to understand and apply inverse proportion. That is way more demanding (and confusing) for high school students than straight proportion.

This is just an example of the complexity required to use the COE to receive the CAA. There must be a minimum of 8 examples and no more than 12. The entire collection must contain work samples that demonstrate at least two different targets from each content strand and there are 5 required content strands. Two of these work samples must be produced “on-demand”. They must also be of at least “moderate complexity”.

As a math instructor, I have a curriculum that I will work hard to modify so that the questions I ask meet the sufficiency requirement of the COE. I just want to warn anyone who thinks this is going to be an “easy” way to get around the WASL, in math, at least that is not going to be the case.

For more information here is the link: http://www.k12.wa.us/assessment/caaoptions/default.aspx

Seattle Times story on Madrona

A story on the front page of today's (3/28/2007) Seattle Times tells of tension between the administration at Madrona K-8 and some of the neighborhood families, particularly White affluent families who say that they didn't feel welcome at the school and their children were not appropriately served there.

To me, this story represents, in microcosm, what is happening throughout Seattle Public Schools. The District has put a great focus on serving underperforming minority students living in poverty. Unfortunately, they have, as usual, been clumsy in their communication - both internal and external. As a result, they have inadvertently given the signal that they are not interested in serving any other students. People have received that inadvertent sign and responded by taking their children either out of the neighborhood school or completely out of the district.

Some of you might think that the message "We are not interested in serving your White affluent child working at or above grade level" is intentional, but I am not ready to arrive at that conclusion. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this.

Here are some facts:
Seattle and the Seattle Public Schools contrast demographically. Seattle is 70% White; Seattle Public Schools is 40% White. Seattle is an extremely affluent city where the median household income in 2001 was $70,000; over 40% of Seattle Public School students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Seattle is one of the most educated cities in the country where 89.5% of adults are high school graduates and 47.2% have college degrees; only 61-65% of Seattle Public School students graduate high school.

I think that the District is absolutely right to focus attention on the needs of underperforming minority students living in poverty. I just have three problems with the way they are doing it.

  1. They talk about it a lot, but they don't seem to know how or what to do. For at least the past six years (perhaps longer), the District has said that their number one goal and priority is to close the academic achievement gap by bringing every student up to standard. Yet they have not introduced any plan of action for achieving that goal. That's either crazy or horribly disingenuous. How can you say "This is my number one goal" and then take no action to achieve it?

    The District has very few models of success, none of which come from the District level initiatives, and the District doesn't duplicate those practices when they appear. Look at what is happening at Maple and at Van Asselt. Those schools have proven success, yet those successful efforts are strictly limited to those schools. The District has not made any effort (that I am aware of) to duplicate the strategies, work and results from these schools at others. Instead, the District provides initiatives such as cultural competency, which has not proven effective, and courageous conversations, which have not proven effective. The most recent effort from the District is Flight Schools; only time will tell if that effort will prove effective. The District inititiatives, including the Flight Schools initiative, always focus on educating the teacher instead of educating the students. They have coaches - for the teachers. They have additional training - for the teachers. Where are the coaches and additional training for the students?

    The District appears to allow schools which have not proven effective to continue along their current path. It feels like neglect. What changes, if any, has the District demanded at schools which are habitually failing to meet AYP? The law requires the school to write an Improvement Plan, but does the District really provide any oversight or extra resources that will make a difference?
  2. The District very clearly sends the message that they are not interested in serving high performing students or White students or affluent students. That message comes though clearly and frequently. They actually appear angry at these folks and contempuous of them. This is three kinds of bad. First, it is bad because the District should serve EVERY student. Usually when people talk about serving EVERY student it is code for serving underperforming minority students living in poverty. They need to make it mean EVERY student. To do otherwise is immoral. Second, it is bad because they are not serving the community as they find it. They are failing to serve the actual population of Seattle. This is simply a government entity failing to meet the needs of their community. Third, it is bad because these are good people to have in the public school system. Their children bring in just as much revenue from the State as any other child but they are actually less expensive to educate. The families bring additional resources to the District: money, volunteers, political support, and expertise. This isn't unique to Madrona; the District is driving away their most desirable customers all over the city.
  3. The District's stated commitment to serving underperforming minority students living in poverty has created a culture in which this effort is glorified. So much so, that the culture actually encourages this model and the associated behaviors. They claim to support parental involvement, but only from the right families. If you're White, then your involvement is a manifestation of White privilege and therefore comtemptible. They claim to want volunteers, but they only from the right families. If you're White, then your free time to volunteer in the classroom is a a manifestation of White privilege and therefore comtemptible. I'm not saying that they WANT children to fail academically, but they sure seem to relish wearing the hairshirt of being an urban district with low achievement. Am I the only one getting that vibe? Am I the only one who has heard District personnel say, sometimes unabashedly "I'm sorry that we don't have the time and resources to support your child's continued success, but we have children here who are failing and we need to give them all of our time and attention first."

    The District's distorted vision of equity puts ceilings on student achievement. It's like some Soviet era idea - only instead of "No person should have two cows until every person has one cow." it is "No student should learn multiplication until every student has learned addition." At Madrona that means that none of the kids can have music and art because some of them need more time on task with math and reading. Where is the effort to differentiate instruction? Where is the commitment to teach each student at the frontier of their knowledge and skills? The focus on bringing every student up to the Standard has resulted in no support for students working beyond Standards. The Standards, intended in theory as a floor, have become, in practice, a ceiling.

Maybe I'm seeing all of this from a narrow perspective. I would really like to hear from other perspectives.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

APP split update

The Board and the District staff appear ready to abandon the Superintendent's decision to relieve the overcrowding at Washington Middle School by dividing the APP community into two unequal parts and attempting to create a new middle school APP at Hamilton without any of the necessary personnel in place or any personal responsibility to see it done.

The decision is likely to be rescinded primarily because the District staff have proven incapable of defending or explaining it. They have gone so long without being asked to explain or defend a decision or to show the data that supports it that they have simply lost the skill set (if they ever had it). The long period without challenge has also resulted in a number of decisions, such as this one, that cannot be explained or defended.

The District's actual goal, the primary motive, was to make sure that neighborhood students had access to the Washington general education program. It turns out that there are only 8 neighborhood students on the waitlist for that program. So all of this turmoil was to make room for 8 students. At the same time, it was revealed that the general education program at Washington includes 273 students from outside the region.

The Board members wondered why 8 of the 273 out of region students could not be displaced to make room for the 8 neighborhood students on the waitlist. They wondered why the school couldn't simply make room for the 8 students without displacing anyone.The Board members asked why the overcrowding couldn't be resolved through less disruptive means. The Board members asked the District staff to demonstrate that they had seriously considered any alternatives. Not only did the staff fail to do that, they couldn't demonstrate that they had seriously considered their preferred alternative. Even after all this time and after repeated Board requests, the staff were unable to provide a comprehensive list the pros and cons of the various options, including the preferred one.

The odd thing is that the staff somehow believes that they have provided that informtion and that the case is self-evident. They haven't made the case, and it is NOT self-evident. Right now all of them are exasperated with each other and this process. I don't think we're going to have another meeting. I would say, as of now, that the staff finds the prospect of another meeting so distasteful - particularly when the next meeting is likely to include a dialog with representatives of the community - that they will walk away from this proposal rather than take that meeting. I would also say that the Board members are exasperated with the poor quality of work they are seeing from the staff, and are anxious to move on to topics that they regard as higher priorities. Towards the end of the meeting Director Butler-Wall reminded Ms Santorno that if the staff chose another path, one that did not include an additional APP site, that the review would be over.

It was clear to me that all five of the people with decision-making authority here (the three Board members, Ms Santorno, and Michelle Corker-Curry) would like to come up behind this dog of an idea and put a bullet in its head. None of them wants to be the one to pull the trigger - at least not in public. They will probably come to an agreement in private to drop the whole thing before the next scheduled meeting. They will all blame each other for it and we will move on to higher priority matters. I am cautiously optimistic that this storm will pass within a few weeks.

I will say, however, that the Board is very likely to re-write Policy D12.00 so that the Board loses the authority to review program placement decisions about APP. After that, this idea may re-surface immediately and next time there won't be any discussion or examination of its merits.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Community Conversation Tomorrow

Tomorrow night is the first of two Community Conversations designed to focus on the academic vision of the Seattle School District. If you can't attend tomorrow night, there is another one on April 3rd.

From the district website:

Families, staff and community members are invited to attend the second in a series of community conversations that will focus on the district's academic vision. Superintendent Raj Manhas, Chief Academic Officer Carla Santorno, and Chief Operating Officer Mark Green will report on progress in implementing the district's academic vision and strategic initiatives.

The meetings are scheduled for:

Thursday, March 22, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Brighton Elementary School, 6725 45th Avenue S.

Tuesday, April 3, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Roosevelt High School, 1410 NE 66th Street

At these meetings Superintendent Raj Manhas, Chief Academic Officer Carla Santorno, and Chief Operating Officer Mark Green will provide updates on implementation of the academic plan and other district priorities. The evening will begin with an informal meet and greet from 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. and the program will end promptly at 8:30.

Please join us, and take the opportunity to see two state-of-the art school buildings. Brighton Elementary (2004) and Roosevelt High School (2006) were made possible by the support of Seattle voters, who approved the 2001 Building Excellence II levy.
Interpreters, childcare, and light refreshments will be available.

THANK YOU to the Seattle Council Parent-Teacher-Student Association for co-sponsoring these events!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Seattle School Board Candidates

The Saturday Seattle Times article, 3 already running for seats on School Board, identifies two people who have already announced they are contesting Seattle School Board seats (Peter Maier and Lisa Stuebing). Sally Soriano has confirmed she will be running for re-election.

What interests me in this article is the closing piece:

Former board member Barbara Schaad-Lamphere, who lost to Flynn in 2003, said she has spoken to others interested in running, though she would not provide names.

The would-be candidates share common traits, she said. "People have a distinctly different approach from the School Board members now in terms of making the difficult decisions that lie ahead. They are determined to work more effectively as a board," Schaad-Lamphere said.

She is kicking off a nonprofit group that will hold a series of meetings to generate interest in the election. "We are at a fork in the road," she said. "We have tough decisions in the future. I think all School Board elections are important, but we have a fever pitch of interest in public schools right now."

Does anyone know the name of this new non-profit group or where we could find more information?

What are the characteristics we should be looking for in new or returning School Board members?

And what should we do about the problems Charlie Mas has pointed out with the way the district is governed so that whoever is elected can make a positive difference for the district?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Town Hall Meetings on Education This Saturday

I got the following announcement from CPPS today about town hall meetings on education this Saturday hosted by the League of Education Voters:

Use your voice this Saturday, March 17, to let our legislators know that great public schools for Seattle’s kids are our TOP priority!

The League of Education Voters is hosting town hall meetings across the state so you can urge your state legislators to make Washington’s children and education their TOP priority in Olympia.

Go to your Town Hall Meeting! Click here to find your town hall meeting.

The Issues:

Early Learning: The Legislature is likely to follow the Governor’s lead on investing in early learning and fund more preschool enrollments and a quality rating and improvement system for preschools and day care. Let your legislators know that you support making quality early learning a top priority.

K-12 Budget: The Legislature is poised to match or exceed the Governor’s proposed $927 million in new investments for K-12. Among the many issues to be resolved: how much should be dedicated for improved math and science instruction and how much for helping districts with under-funded costs like special education and transportation?

Math & Science Instruction & the WASL: Both the House and Senate have passed bills that maintain the reading and writing WASL tests as graduation requirements, but would gradually replace the math and science WASL tests with end-of-course assessments. All agree the goal isn’t testing, but better math and science instruction.

Higher Education Opportunities: The Governor has proposed new enrollments, tuition caps, more financial aid, and increased support for colleges and universities—the best higher education budget in decades. Now it’s the turn of both chambers, and we citizens, to speak up for higher education.

Simple Majority for School Levies: For the 5th consecutive year, the House passed a resolution asking voters to decide whether to change the constitution to allow school levies to pass with a simple majority. In the House the measure passed 79-19 with broad bi-partisan support. In the Senate it failed 30-17. Senate leadership has vowed to bring the measure back up for another vote. Ask your legislators how they voted on this issue of simple fairness.

For more information, visit the League of Education Voters at www.educationvoters.org

Please email LEV (info@educationvoters.org) and confirm you're planning to attend (and how many friends, neighbors and co-workers you are bringing!).

If you cannot attend a town hall, please call, write or e-mail your state Representatives or state Senator. To find your lawmaker, click here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Superintendent Selection Process

Yesterday was the application deadline for the Seattle Schools superintendent position.

The rest of the selection and hiring timeline is as follows:

March 13, 2007 - All application materials due to Ray & Associates.

March 27, 2007 - Executive Session regarding Personnel; the board reviews applications.

TBD - Executive Session regarding Personnel; the board interviews candidates.

TBD - Finalist(s) announced; optional on-site visits with leading candidate(s).

TBD - Offer of contract and press release regarding the new superintendent.

It is the Board’s goal to have a new superintendent hired by the end of April.

I'm glad the Board is keeping the recruitment process quieter this time. I don't believe it's possible to do a good job of recruiting a superintendent in a fish bowl with everyone watching and commenting from the outside looking in.

However, I sure am curious about the quantity and quality of applications received. I continue to be skeptical about the ability of the Board to hire a high quality superintendent, but I'd love to be proved wrong.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Call to Action: Blog Contributors

This blog currently has 5 contributors (people who can write and post entries on the blog), and, depending upon the day, about 150-200 daily readers.

My latest call for action is a request for some additional blog contributors. I would like to see new posts on this blog on an almost daily basis, and need help from others to make that happen.

If you are interested in becoming a blog contributor, please e-mail me with a short description of why you would like to be a blog contributor, a description of your connection to Seattle Public Schools (i.e. teacher, parent, district staff, Board member), a list of a few of your areas of concern/interest and a sample of your writing.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sinking Seattle Public Schools

I know that this blog is titled "Saving Seattle Public Schools", but what if someone had a beef against the District and wanted to make trouble? Think of the SOCKED folks who dragged the District into Court over the school closures claiming, among other things, that the closures violated anti-discrimination laws and the notice provided prior to the closure of Rainier View was inadequate.

SOCKED made use of RCW 28A.645.010 which allows people to have school board or school official decisions, actions, and in-actions reviewed in Superior Court. That's quite a hammer to be swinging around. The law is pretty vague about what sort of things can be appealed. It's also unclear about what remedies the Superior Court can order. The one thing that is for sure is that this law is a gold-plated license to be a royal pain in the ass.

Take, for example, a routine School Board vote, such as the one taken on November 15, 2006 in which the Board voted unanimously to approve the 2006-2007 Building Transformation Plans. With this vote, the Board attested that the school transformation plans were all complete and that they satisfied the requirements of WAC 180.16.220. Well anyone who has read any of the school transformation plans and has also read the WAC knows without a doubt that the school transformation plans don't begin to meet the requirements of the law. So imagine if a person, or persons, either severally or collectively, aggrieved by the vote on November 15, filed an appeal of the vote in superior court within the thirty day deadline. The District would lose and lose hard. The State Board of Education doesn't review the plans; they accept the Board endorsement without independent verification. The superior court, however, would actually check. The net result would be that the District would lose their entitlement to state basic education allocation funds. Seattle Public Schools would be seriously up the creek with no paddle in sight. Every school would have to scramble to draft a new school transformation plan that actually satisfied the legal requirements. No matter how much the District harangued them, I bet it would be MONTHS before some schools complied.

Is it irresponsible of me to point this out to the general public? Or is it irresponsible of the District to ignore the law, irresponsible of the Chief Academic Officer to endorse the School Transformation Plans to the Board without confirming their compliance with the law, and irresponsible of the Board to endorse the plans to the State Board of Education without confirming their compliance with the law? For what it's worth, I did advise the District leadership of this failing and I didn't appeal the vote before December 15. Maybe now that they have been put on notice they won't leave this door open next year.

There are, in fact, dozens of similar events and opportunities in which the District fails to comply with their Policies or the law. Their work is actually pretty sloppy. In addition, the District staff don't really know the District Policies very well. I think they pretty much ignore them. This speaks to the Board's ineffectiveness as a policy-making body, a condition that is directly attributable to their inability to enforce Policy.

If I had access to affordable legal counsel, say a lawyer/parent with an axe to grind, I could keep the District in Court much more than they would care to be there and I would beat them most of the time. Of course, I would forbear if the District would alter some specific decisions that I might name...

I would consider such extortion solely because no other method of negotiation or conversation has proven effective. I don't want to have a contentious relationship with the District. I want a cooperative and collaborative relationship, but they refuse to even talk to the community, let alone cooperate or collaborate. What other tool do I have to bring them to the table?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Call to Action: Recommendations from Learning First Alliance

Comments on this blog recently have really spurred my thinking about what, if anything, this blog is doing to contribute to positive change in Seattle Public Schools. I'm hoping to write a series of posts that are "calls to action", suggesting specific, concrete steps parents, teachers and others can take to improve our schools.

To start off, I'd highly recommend everyone read a report called "Beyond Islands of Excellence: What Districts Can Do To Improve Instruction and Achievement in All Schools." It is a report by the Learning First Alliance, which is a "a permanent partnership of 17 leading education associations with more than 10 million members dedicated to improving student learning in America's public schools." You can download this and other publications of the Learning First Alliance after completing a free registration process online.

The whole report is quite informative, but if you are short on time, skip to page 49 to read the Ten Lessons Learned, and then to page 51 to read the Recommendations, both overall and then broken out for individual stakeholders. For Parent Leaders, the report's recommendations for action are:

1. Demand data regarding student performance, curriculum quality, teacher qualifications, the quality of instruction, fund allocation, and strategies to improve achievement.

2. Build parent and community support for instructional reform. Help parents understand reform in the district, the importance of instruction, and the relationship between instructional improvement and student achievement.

3. Learn about why teachers need ongoing on-the-job professional development to improve student achievement, and work with parents to support it. Support policies such as early-release time or additional funds to build the instructional skills of teachers and leaders.

4. Actively support school board candidates who will sustain the district focus on improving achievement and instruction.

These recommendations seem concrete and actionable. They could form the core of an agenda for CPPS (Communities & Parents for Public Schools), the Alliance for Education, the PTSA or other city-wide groups, and #1 and #4 are also recommendations individual parents could put time into. I believe Brita is committed to more open exchange of information and could perhaps assist us gathering some of the information listed in recommendation #1 which we could publicize on this blog, at our schools, and elsewhere.

Your thoughts, reactions or ideas about how to follow the Learning First Alliance recommendations?