Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Superintendent's First 100 Days

Back in April when Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was hired, she shared her plan for her first 100 days in Seattle. (Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's First 100 Days in Seattle)

A superintendent in Enumclaw is just finishing his first 100 days, and what he has accomplished sounds good to me. (Enumclaw schools chief making an impact in 100 days, Seattle Times)

"...community members are taking notice of new goals targeting four areas: communication, infrastructure, academics and culture. "Our new plan is something much more tangible and simple," said Cathy Dahlquist, Enumclaw School Board member. "I don't know if anyone could describe our old one."

...He wants to strengthen ties between parents and staff and improve community relations.

...A self-proclaimed "communicator," Nelson sends weekly letters to staff where he discusses his concerns and thoughts on the past week. For parents, he hosts community meetings and regularly sends home letters."

Church and State working together?

Reading the PI this morning, I saw this article about the First United Methodist Church and its move to Belltown. I stopped when I saw this:

"The church's 1950s-era administrative wing will be torn down to make room for the skyscraper. The saved sanctuary will be renovated for public use, but what exactly it will become remains undecided. With the building's acoustics, it might make a good performing-arts center, Daniels said. One idea, he said, is a collaboration with Seattle Public Schools to take student performances downtown."

That does sound good and would be a nice downtown venue for any and all student groups who might want to put on performances. I wish I knew who in the district to direct this information to because it should be on the district's radar. This would be a good partnership that would let Seattle know (and hear) more of the good things that are happening in our schools.

I recall that when Rainier Beach's new performing arts hall was built that many arts organizations expressed interest in helping foster the arts there but no one in the district followed up and Rainier Beach barely has any performing arts. But! They are performing, in conjunction with Broadway Bound Children's Theater, the Wizard of Oz from June 7th to 9th. Also, Broadway Bound will be putting on Dreamgirls from August 17-25 at the Paul Robeson Performing Arts Center at RBHS.

Joel Connelly's take on candidates

Joel Connelly wrote in his column today about candidates who attended the Alki candidate forum (I'm sure there are more than the ones he wrote about).

Here's what he had to say about School Board candidates, Peter Maier and Sally Soriano.

"Seattle School Board candidate Peter Maier came across at the forum as crisp, able and informed. Maier is a Harvard-trained lawyer who has headed Schools First, organizing school levy campaigns. He is taking on incumbent Sally Soriano, active in anti-World Trade Organization protests and part of an insurgent school slate elected in 2003.

The race will offer clear choices.

"The WASL test has become a punitive test," declared Soriano. Maier argued, however, that the statewide test is "an appropriate means of introducing rigor and skills" that students need in college and the job market.

As to race relations, Soriano said "anti-racism, sexism and classism" belong in the curriculum of city schools. Maier stressed the importance of "individual relationships," and argued: "What really matters is that every child reach his or her potential." "

Well, when you frame one person as a Harvard-educated lawyer versus an anti-WTO activist, what can you expect? C'mon, whatever you think about Sally Soriano, her credentials to be on the Board extend much further than one piece of activism in her life. She's an educator. Also, insurgent slate? There was no slate in 2003, just 4 people running for 4 seats. Brita, Sally, Irene and Darlene would laugh if you called them a slate because really, how did that turn out? Did they vote in lockstep? Nope.

I think the last paragraph about race relations really shows the gap in thinking. There are issues of racism, classism and sexism in our society but should that be what we wrap all the thinking around as we teach students? At the other end, we have this feel-good "every child should reach his or her potential". That's great but too many platitudes without how to get there make me nervous.

One idea at a time - Promotion Policy

No one, not even Mr. Manhas, is blind to the dysfunction in Seattle Public Schools. Unfortunately, no one, particularly Mr. Manhas, has done much to address it. Perhaps they don't have any ideas about how to address it.

Well, I'm all about solutions. It's not enough to complain; one must also offer remedies. You may not think these remedies are any good; in which case I welcome opportunities for improvement. I don't know if anyone in a position to do so can or will take these ideas forward, but I will offer them anyway. Let no one suggest that these problems can never be solved.

IDEA #5 Promotion/non-promotion policy.

When I look around Seattle for examples of success in closing the academic achievement gap by bringing every student up to Standards I see a recurring theme. It isn't cultural competence. The schools that show success all set and maintain high expectations for all students. The Board already has policies that mandate this, but such a Policy would be unenforceable even if the Board had some means of enforcing Policies. What could the Board do to support setting and maintaining high expectations for all students?

One step would be to adopt and enforce tight promotion/non-promotion policies. Such policies already exist, but they are horribly obsolete. They reference assessments which are no longer administered and committees that no longer exist. Seattle Public Schools is supposed to be a Standards-based learning system. As such, a student should advance from the third grade to the fourth grade upon meeting the third grade academic expectations - not upon the last day of school in the third grade.

Whatever benchmarks are adopted, they should reflect the grade level expectations (such as elementary school progress reports), be easily discernable data (such as elementary school progress reports), and should provide the student and the student's family with ample advance notice of impending non-promotion (such as elementary school progress reports). Obviously, the progress reports will do well for elementary students.

The key, of course, would be to leave the determination of progress towards Standards to the teachers but to retain centrally the job of notification of promotion/non-promotion. The district would have to apply it to all grade levels starting with kindergarten.

The district appears to have already adopted a de facto policy on promotion/non-promotion in high schools: students advance to the next grade upon the completion of every five credits. A student who takes five years to complete their 20 credits just stays there at the school until they are done. It doesn't seem to make much difference because students are all persuing an individualized curriculum and classes routinely include students of multiple grade levels.

It is trickier in middle school. The students get letter grades which do not necessarily reflect progress towards Standards. But they can't just stay there until they complete their credits because may advance in some subjects and not in others.

This is when we address ourselves to what we will do for those students who do not meet the academic expectations at the end of the school year. While holding them back has not proven effective, neither has promoting them. We need a third choice.

I have, for some time now, advocated for a new program - separate from the regular classes - designed to quickly bring these students up to Standards and then return them to the general education program. This program would be extended, intensive, and enriched. I won't describe it again here. It is unclear to me if the Board can develop and introduce this sort of program or if that responsibility falls to the Superintendent. In either case, the focus of this idea is for the Board to support the District's efforts to set and maintain high expectations for all students by developing and implementing tight promotion/non-promotion policies.

So, what do you think? Would this innovation help close the academic achievement gap? Would it be worth the time, cost and effort? Could this idea be improved? Is there a better way to accomplish the same ends?

WASL Op-Ed in the Times

In the op-ed piece, High Test Fuel for WASL, teacher Wendy Grove makes the case (I think) for keeping the math and science sections of the WASL instead of using alternatives (which I believe the Governor vetoed doing anywway).

I say "I think" because her piece is somewhat contradictory. She starts by saying,

"The WASL is a valid test for my third- and fourth-graders; it asks them to show proficiency according to the wisely, deliberately crafted Washington state standards, and we should stick with the test that aligns with the standards to which we're instructing."

(I'm not sure I know what wisely crafted means. She might have meant well-crafted?)

So you think she believes in the WASL based on what is taught in schools. But further on, it seems like she's making the case that when Everyday Math was rolled out it didn't come with training and some teachers used it fully and others didn't. Meanwhile kids who changed schools got math presented differently. She even says by the time kids get to high school teachers are complained and kids do poorly. Wouldn't this mean it makes sense to not use the math WASL as a graduation requirement?

The following paragraph really struck me because of the on-going concerns by parents over late-start days in middle/high school.

"The problem is compounded by a lack of time for teachers to design lessons and discuss the best instructional strategies for their students. We don't just turn the page in the teacher's manual anymore. And we don't want to: Collaborating about student learning is powerful. But districts don't have money to give teachers this essential time."

My husband is a professor at UW and always wonders outloud why every teacher has to create his/her own lesson plans. Aren't there a lot out there - tested and used by teachers - that already exist? I don't want anyone turning the page in a teacher's manual either but when I (or other parents) ask what it is that teachers want to do during collaboration time that better serves the goal of academic achievement, we get no answers. We're still waiting at Roosevelt. What does "collaborating about student learning" mean in real terms and how many hours are reasonable for teachers to accomplish this?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

One idea at a time - Program Placement reform

No one, not even Mr. Manhas, is blind to the dysfunction in Seattle Public Schools. Unfortunately, no one, particularly Mr. Manhas, has done much to address it. Perhaps they don't have any ideas about how to address it.

Well, I'm all about solutions. It's not enough to complain; one must also offer remedies. You may not think these remedies are any good; in which case I welcome opportunities for improvement. I don't know if anyone in a position to do so can or will take these ideas forward, but I will offer them anyway. Let no one suggest that these problems can never be solved.

IDEA #4 program placement reform.

A lot of people are not aware of how program placement decisions are made in Seattle Public Schools. These are the decisions about which schools will have special education, bilingual, and advanced learning programs. There's an excellent reason why most folks don't know how these decisions are made; it is because they are made in secret. According to Policy, the Superintendent makes these decisions. In real life, the decisions are made by the Program Placement Committee.

This Committee is chaired by the Chief Academic Officer. Other than her, there is no knowing who else is on the Committee. The membership is not public knowledge. The Committee meets weekly but no one knows what they discuss; the meetings are not open to the public and their minutes are not part of the public record. No one knows how they come to their decisions; they have no published guidelines or criteria. The Committee does not take public input nor does it consider public input as a factor in their decisions. The Committee's recommendations go to the Superintendent and he approves them.

So, in short, despite a lot of lip service paid to the values of openness, honesty, transparency, engagement and accountability, critical decisions about students' education - where they will go to school - are made through a process which represents the antithesis of those values.

The process is not open. The public may not attend the meetings and the minutes are not available.

The process is not honest. We have no way of knowing how this Committee reaches their decisions, the horse-trading that is done. The Student Learning Committee recently reviewed a decision by the Program Placement Committee and the revelations were astonishing. The Committee kept changing the facts to suit the immediate needs of their defense. They would not provide the Board with a complete set of facts despite repeated requests.

The process is not transparent. There are no set criteria or goals for these decisions. There are no metrics or benchmarks. There are no rules and no indication that everyone is treated the same. The decisions do not appear to be data-driven. They don't even appear to be fact-based.

The process is not engaged. Public input is not solicited and unsolicited public input is not regarded as a factor in the decisions. The Committee provided a matrix of the considerations for a recent decision and, despite unprecedented public input on the decision, that input did not appear on the list of factors for the decision.

The process is not accountable. The members of the Committee are anonymous and therefore unaccountable. The decisions are ultimately the Superintendent's, thereby leaving the Committee unaccountable. There is no feedback loop on the outcome of the Committee's decisions. A number of them have been disastrous, but that never reflects on the Committee, the members of the Committee, or the process.

This is clearly a dysfunctional process which runs directly counter to the District's stated values. I would not prescribe a replacement process for the Superintendent. Instead, the Board should direct the Superintendent to develop a replacement process that reflects the District's stated values. It is the Superintendent's job and to determine how this will be done and entirely within the Superintendent's sole authority to make that determination. It is the Board's job to make sure it is done in a manner consistent with the District's values.

Until that new process is developed and implemented, however, the Program Placement Committee meetings should be opened to the public and the Committee's minutes - past and future - should be made publicly available.

So, what do you think? Would this innovation help lead to achieving our goal of making the District's processes more open, honest, transparent, engaged and accountable? Would it be worth the time, cost and effort? Could this idea be improved? Is there a better way to accomplish the same ends?

One idea at a time - volunteer Board staff

No one, not even Mr. Manhas, is blind to the dysfunction in Seattle Public Schools. Unfortunately, no one, particularly Mr. Manhas, has done much to address it. Perhaps they don't have any ideas about how to address it.

Well, I'm all about solutions. It's not enough to complain; one must also offer remedies. You may not think these remedies are any good; in which case I welcome opportunities for improvement. I don't know if anyone in a position to do so can or will take these ideas forward, but I will offer them anyway. Let no one suggest that these problems can never be solved.

IDEA #3 volunteer Board staff.
Periodically, we hear that the Board cannot do their job properly because they lack staff. The lack of staff is provided as the reason they can't respond to their email, phone calls, and letters. The lack of staff is given as the reason that the Board isn't adequately informed on issues. The lack of staff is given as the reason that the Board relies so heavily on the staff's version of reality. There are a number of other failures which are attributed to the Board's lack of staff.

I have heard Board members go on about how the District doesn't make adequate use of community volunteers, and how the schools haven't made enough use of the talent pools in their communities. The Board should lead by example by asking informed, involved, and expert community members to provide them with staff support. Surely there are folks who would, on a volunteer basis, read and respond to constituent email. I know for absolute certain that there are community members who would do analysis and provide advice to Board members. In fact, they are itching for the chance. There are marketing professionals, construction professionals, statistical analysis professionals, education professionals, legal professionals, experts of every stripe who would love to provide a Board member with their expert review and suggestions.

All the Board members have to do is allow it. They don't even have to ask; they just have to stop declining offers. It is disingenuous for the Board to ever complain of a lack of staff or use their lack of staff as an excuse. They could have all the support they could ever want or need and they could have it for free simply by allowing it.

So, what do you think? Would this innovation help the Board fulfill their function? Would it be worth the time, cost and effort? Could this idea be improved? Is there a better way to accomplish the same ends?

Fair and Balanced

Here's an editorial that's more even-handed in its assessment of the Board. It ran in today's PI.

Times Differs with the PI

Following up on the PI's endorsement of the math adoption plan yesterday, here's the Times' take on it. Their reasoning:

"The decision would be made before new state standards are in place, before the new district superintendent is in her job and before Seattle voters have had a chance to realign the School Board. It would be best to delay this decision until those things are done first. Delay would come at a cost. Forty percent of fourth-graders are failing the WASL test in math, the scores have not substantially improved in three years, and there is a large achievement gap between the races. There is reason to hurry, but only if the district is hurrying to do the right thing — and that is not obvious."

I didn't realize that the state standards weren't in place so it does seem logical (especially considering the costs involved) to wait. I'm not so sure you need a new Superintendent/Board to make this decision but that's their belief. I think the last sentence in that paragraph is well stated.

Special Legislative Session Tonight

Instead of a regular School Board meeting tonight, there is a Special Legislative session, starting at 6 pm at the John Stanford Center.

There are only two agenda items:

Elementary Math Adoption (Student Learning) – The Student Learning Committee recommends approval of this item which would adopt a new elementary math curriculum beginning in the 2007/08 school year.

K-2 Independent Reading Classroom Libraries (Student Learning) – the Student Learning Committee recommends approval of this item which would authorize expenditures of $1,388,432 for K-2 independent reading libraries in every K-2 classroom in Seattle Schools.

If you are interested in testifying about either one of these topics, just show up early. The agenda says:

Public testimony at this special legislative session will be limited to the topics of the meeting. Each speaker will be allowed up to three minutes to speak. Anyone wishing to speak may sign up at the door starting at 5:30pm.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What I Did On my Summer Vacation

I found this at the Couriercritic.blogspot:

"Sunday's story in the P & C about goody bags given to about 22,000 elementary children in CCSD surely is cause for hope. Nancy McGinley took the initiative to follow through on a suggestion from a school volunteer!

"The bags contain a day-to-day calendar of suggested activities for children to do with the help of their parents, such as "think of all the words that describe your family and make a poster of family words" or "name a food that starts with each letter of the alphabet."
"The bags also include: a list of locations and phone numbers for the free summer meals programs, a brochure for the Charleston County Public Library summer program and library card application, summer journal writing ideas and educational Web sites. Individual schools are invited to add information to the bags such as media center hours and reading lists. . . . The district also plans to partner with the library to put together summer materials for middle and high school students."

The idea-person, "Willette Dennis-Wilkins, the North Charleston resident and school volunteer who gave McGinley the idea for the bags, said she's wanted the district to take on this project for nearly a decade." "

I had passed on an abbrievated suggestion to Carla Santorno after attending one of the educational forums that was at Roosevelt. As I may have mentioned before, I was at a table with Phil Brockman, High School Director, Ruth Metzker, Middle School Director, Rosalyn Wise, district math supervisor and a couple of other district staffers. A parent said her son experienced a drop-off in skills in the summer and what could she do? Their answer? Read.

I wrote to Carla and said this complaint wasn't something new and couldn't the district send home a sheet to every elementary and middle school child (at least) with suggestions of what to do over the summer to keep their skills up. I like the idea of putting down library locations and information about their summer programs. This can't be that hard to do. It'll be interesting if anyone here reports getting something like this coming home on the last day of school.

One idea at a time - Gap Closing Plan

No one, not even Mr. Manhas, is blind to the dysfunction in Seattle Public Schools. Unfortunately, no one, particularly Mr. Manhas, has done much to address it. Perhaps they don't have any ideas about how to address it.

Well, I'm all about solutions. It's not enough to complain; one must also offer remedies. You may not think these remedies are any good; in which case I welcome opportunities for improvement. I don't know if anyone in a position to do so can or will take these ideas forward, but I will offer them anyway. Let no one suggest that these problems can never be solved.

IDEA #2 Gap Closing Plan.
I have been active in Seattle School District issues for about six years. For all that time the District's stated number one goal and priority has been to close the academic achievement gap by bringing every student up to Standards. And for all that time, the District has made rather poor progress towards that goal. I suspect that the progress has not been very good because for all that time the District has never developed or implemented a plan to achieve that goal.

This is either true, grim dysfunction or it is the most callous disingenuous lying I ever hope to see. What sort of organization goes on and on about how achieving X is their primary goal and priority, mentioning it at every possible opportunity, yet, somehow, never actually implements a plan to achieve X? Never even writes a plan to achieve X? Never even discusses a plan to achieve X? That defies belief.

So, I suggest that the Board direct the Superintendent to develop, implement, monitor and, as necessary, revise a plan to close the academic achievement gap by bringing every student up to Standard. This plan must be complete with action steps, rationales, metrics, assessments, benchmarks, and contingency plans.

Kinda weird that no one has ever done this, isn't it? Weird isn't the word, the word is dysfunctional.

So, what do you think? Would this innovation help lead to achieving our goal of closing the academic achievement gap by bringing every student up to Standard? Would it be worth the time, cost and effort? Could this idea be improved? Is there a better way to accomplish the same ends?

Seattle PI endores new math curriculum

I know I am rehashing old ground here but,The PI today says that the school board should adopt Everyday Math with an add-in of Singapore Math for the elementary schools. Sorry for the upcoming sarcasm, but my only thought on this is: "Oh boy, I can hardly wait till I get these students in high school and I get to teach them the basics they should have learned long ago."

If the elementary schools are going to do a blend of Everyday Math and Singapore math, it should be mostly Singapore Math with Everyday Math used to help students discover things after they have learned the basics.

The PI does say that teacher training will be the key to success, so at least they understand that you can't just adopt a curriculum in a vacuum and expect real learning to take place.

One idea at a time: contributor column

No one, not even Mr. Manhas, is blind to the dysfunction in Seattle Public Schools. Unfortunately, no one, particularly Mr. Manhas, has done much to address it. Perhaps they don't have any ideas about how to address it.

Well, I'm all about solutions. It's not enough to complain; one must also offer remedies. You may not think these remedies are any good; in which case I welcome opportunities for improvement. I don't know if anyone in a position to do so can or will take these ideas forward, but I will offer them anyway. Let no one suggest that these problems can never be solved.

IDEA #1 Contributor Column.
If you take a look at any Board Action, such as the sample shown here, you will see that the format includes a three-column table with the headings: Options, Pros & Cons of Each, and Fiscal Impact & Revenue Source. I propose that we add another column called "Contributors". In the contributors column, the person writing the School Board Action Report will list the names of those who contributed to the action item. If they are District staff, they should be listed by name and department (or school). Moreover, there should be some description of the nature and extent of each person's contribution.

This would directly address several of the District's fundamental dysfunctions.

It would disclose the collaboration - or lack of collaboration between departments, thereby contributing to the breakdown of the notorious "silos" within the JSCEE - a known area of dysfunction in the District.

It would disclose the collaboration - or lack of collaboration with the community and student families, thereby contributing to meaningful community engagement - a known area of dysfunction in the District.

It would name the names of the people responsible for District decisions, thereby contributing to increased accountability - a known area of dysfunction in the District.

When this information is present, the Board can use it to ask: were the people in this affected school or department consulted? And if the Board doesn't believe that the action item reflects sufficient collaboration between departments or with the public, or doesn't adequately disclose the people who are driving the idea, they can ask for that prior to the vote. Moreover, the Board can directly their questions to the people involved in the decision, included those who prefer alternatives.

So, what do you think? Would this innovation result in improved collaboration, improved community engagement and improved accountability? Would it be worth the time, cost and effort? Could this idea be improved? Is there a better way to accomplish the same ends?

Chinese Education -The Educated Giant

The Educated Giant was a Nicholas Kristof op-ed in the NY Times about China's education system. (I'm not sure how long this link will last as they didn't have their normal long-term icon for links.) He brings up some good points like foreign language instruction starts a lot sooner in China (and most European countries) than in the U.S. He also makes a point that bears thinking about in our youth culture of "I want it now", rap music (you may agree with Russell Simmons but he's smiling all the way to the bank whether or not he puts on a public persona of "I care") and the 3 Bimbos of the Apocalypse (Britney, Paris and Lindsey). (Having said that, I do believe that climate change may be extending to hell as Paris is actually going to do jail time.)

"A third reason is that Chinese believe that those who get the best grades are the hardest workers. In contrast, Americans say in polls that the best students are the ones who are innately the smartest. The upshot is that Chinese kids never have an excuse for mediocrity."

So much of youth culture is about not being smart. It's not cool. But kids want learning easy and fast (at least my teen at home does) and no matter how entertaining or relevant you make curriculum, it takes work.

There are plenty of things you can point to as wrong with Chinese teaching starting with its roteness. But as more Chinese students learn English and come to the U.S. for college or grad school (or their universities and grad schools seek to emulate the U.S.), they might not stay in that rut. I saw on ESPN that the Chinese have now brought teams to the world cheerleading championships (stop laughing) who were terrible the first year and then, by their second year of competion, could bring it on. The Chinese may not be great innovators at this point but boy, when they put their mind to something, watch out. And I think that's Mr. Kristof's point.

Whither the Alliance?

Thise editorial was in today's Times about the Alliance for Education.

I had wondered myself about what happened to the Alliance who was so front and center during Superintendent Olchefske's tenure. I remember when the Alliance came about under John Stanford and thinking, "Now that's a good idea to get buy-in, help and feedback from different organizations." But the Alliance seemed to be more business-oriented than an umbrella organization and soon was allowed privileges that no other group had (like sitting in on meetings that the general public was not allowed at).

After the elections 4 years ago, I thought that Alliance would not be happy with the Board makeup and, as time went by and they were less visible, thought it was true. But, with any organization, I'm sure there was a lot going on. It will be interesting to see what their relationship will be with the new superintendent.

Monday, May 28, 2007

New From Crosscuts

A Comeback Scenario for Seattle Schools, a new article in Crosscuts by David Brewster has some fair forecasting along with some tired old bromides about the Board. He calls Mary Bass and Sally Soriano, "the least-corrigible dissidents" (I wonder who would be the most). He made me laugh with his description of Maria Goodloe-Johnson:

"Maria Goodloe-Johnson, from Charleston, S.C., Country Schools (an urban-suburban blend), came across as crisp, tough, almost gleefully confrontationist in the Chow mode. She looks like the overt reformer, which raises the question of whether, after she skewers some sacred cows, the board would stand behind her."

Will she be an uber-reformer? Good question. Will she be willing to skewer some sacred cows? Now that would be interesting. I don't think any Board wants to hang the superintendent out to twist in the wind so let's see how far she might go.

He does say there are "quality" candidates running but leaves out Harim Martin-Morris and Lisa Stuebing. Does that mean they aren't or he doesn't know enough yet? It probably would have been good to say and not make it look like he already made up his mind (it's way too early for that).

He also makes some interesting assertions about appointed boards:

"Boards turn over frequently, fall into factions that grind up superintendents, lack key skills. Appointed boards at least promise more stability and more careful assignment of role players with the right skills."

Okay, I'll bite. What a key skill for a school board member? I can think of some but what does he mean? How do appointed boards promise more stability? Are they appointed for longer terms? Would being appointed make you loyal to the viewpoint of the person/entity that appointed you and that translates into stability? What does "careful assignment of role players with the right skills" mean? Is he talking about the CAO, COO or what? My son used to like Dungeons and Dragons and I swear that's the same kind of language.

The comments at the end are interesting as well.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Happy Birthday, Blog!

On May 25, 2006, frustrated by the school closure and consolidation plan, but invigorated by the discussions I had with others around the district during meetings and hearings, I started this blog. I was completely new to blogging -- I didn't read any blogs on a regular basis, and I had never created one -- but I was determined to do something, and it needed to be something I could do in the evenings from home, after work and putting kids to bed.

It was a great decision for me. The research and writing I have done for the blog, has provided a great form of professional development, pushing me to learn more about K-12 education issues, both in Seattle and elsewhere around the state and the country. But it has been reading others' posts and comments that has provided me with the greatest insights and the best learning.

Inviting other experienced education advocates, like Charlie Mas, Andrew Kwatinetz, Mel Westbrook, and Johnny Calcagno, to be blog contributors gave me and other readers a chance to learn from their experiences and hear their perspectives. Then, recently, I was lucky enough to get a willing and committed teacher, Michael Rice, to join as a blog contributor to widen the perspectives shared on this blog further.

In recent months, I have considered closing this blog, questioning its purpose and my ability to continue to devote time to it. However, after discussions with several people whose opinions I value, I've concluded that this blog is serving an important purpose by increasing communication about important issues facing our school and creating a sense of shared community that is not tied to a particular school, program, or area of the city.

I also believe this blog should continue to change. When Brita Butler-Wall finishes her term as a School Board member, she will be joining the blog as a contributor. (Hurray!) I encourage any teachers, district staff, and parents who believe they could add a different perspective to this blog to contact me about becoming a contributor as well. In addition, if you have suggestions about how this blog could/should change and/or topics you would like to see covered, please e-mail those ideas to me.

Seattle Magazine Article on Dropouts

This article is in this month's Seattle Magazine about drop-outs. I find quite a few problems with it.

One, the author, Carol Tice, says that there has been leadership turnover in SPS and that made it hard to implement new ideas. And that is based on what? There is leadership turnover at many districts throughout the state and the nation. Frankly, I think people get tired of "the latest thing" and actually would prefer to laser focus on maybe 3 things. Whether you agree with me or not, I'm not sure how she can support that assertion.

Two, she says that the population of SPS has a higher percentage of minority students than the general population because of the large numbers of parents choosing private schools. Okay. Then, she staates,

"Observers also say there’s a lack of openness to new programs that work for minority students."

I love when reporters say "observers". Who are these people and why should I place my faith in their observations? I also read that statement to be speaking of TAF.

Then the VP for the Alliance for Education says this:

“We have only around 40 percent of our kids signing up for free or reduced lunch. So you would sort of expect we’d have higher graduation rates. But we don’t.”

Only 40 percent? That seems pretty darn high and what needs to be pointed out is that we have a fairly high number of schools, concentrated in the south end, that have upwards of 50%+ free/reduced lunch AND minority students. When you get those two issues lining up, the challenges are huge. It just can't be overlooked.

The next quote from the article I found lacking:

"The Silent Epidemic, a national survey of hundreds of dropouts commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last year, echoes the findings of many studies before it. Kids drop out because schools lack three things: rigor, relevance and relationships."

(Note: I blogged about The Silent Epidemic a couple of weeks back if you want more info.) Rigor, relevance and relationships is Gates' interpretation of the survey results. If you look at what is posted on their website, the reasons are classes are not interesting, too many missed days anyway, not enough discipline to keep them in school, failing school and needing to have a job. What might (and might is their word) have kept them in school might be stated as rigor, relevance and relationships. It bothers me that Mr. Gates wants people to believe his wording as some sort of educational gospel.

Further a good point is made in talking about a program in Lakewood,

"There’s also no remedial math at Clover Park, as there is in most state high schools; all 9th graders take algebra and receive extra tutoring and extended classes if they need it. He says this is crucial, as college success rates are poor for students who don’t take three years of advanced high school math, including second-year algebra. “This is an equity and social-justice issue,” he says. “If where you were placed in math in 6th grade puts you on a track that doesn’t get you access to college, that’s just not right.”

That's true. Kids need support every step of the way in the form of some sort of educational triage.

The reporter gets her labelling wrong in this statement:

"Most alternative schools—which primarily serve former dropouts and students who are at risk for dropping out—don’t have this kind of success. In fact, Seattle’s Santorno began a districtwide review of alternative school programs last February. Most have dismal graduation rates—for instance, 30 percent for John Marshall High School, currently slated to close next year."

If she's describing SPS, then the label would be re-entry. Our alternative schools are not mostly serving former dropouts and students at risk. Also, in a recent article in the NY Times, it was stated that, overall, reentry high schools do a better job of getting kids to graduation than shuffling them around from high school to high school.

The article further discusses TAF's efforts and truancy. There was a good front-page article on truancy in the Seattle Weekly a few issues back that's worth reading because it's a complicated subject (depending on the student).

A Valentine to SPS

A nice end-of-the-year shot in the arm to our public schools in the Times today. It's nice to have because as we approach the end of the year, 7 schools will close/merge and it is likely to get a lot of coverage in the media (as it should).

It will be painful and sad but I honestly believe that if the district can thoughtfully and with great sensitivity guide these schools through this process, can create an assignment plan that saves money (via transportation dollars that are then driven into schools that are struggling) and have the new superintendent vow to have a laser focus AND work to implement Board policies (no matter who is on the Board), we have a great chance to move forward and make this a great district for a great city.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Board Work Session on Student Assignment

I attended the Board work session on student assignment yesterday. There were lots of maps and data posted but I didn't get to look at them much. I'm assuming it's what is at the community meetings. All the directors were there except Bass and Stewart (it was being recorded for them). I thought there was much good discussion by the directors. There was one slight oddity which was that Director Soriano sat completely away from the other directors. I don't know why. The following is not a complete record but highlights as I took notes.

Raj and Carla both spoke. Here is what Carla said that they are looking to do/have occur in terms of the assignment program:
-equitable access to quality instruction
-family engagement
-access to programs and services
-curriculum alignment through solid feeders

Her requirements:
-Quality teachers at every school
-strong leadership at each school
-increased resources and opportunities
-intentional location of programs
-structural change in assignment

She spoke about the Flight School program in the SE and its use of feeder schools along with incentives for teachers to stick with the program.

Tracy Libros from Student Assignment took the lead on explaining each level to the directors. She mentioned that she believes alternative schools are their own layer, they have varying "taxonomies" and that it is going to be a challenge to figure out how they will work within any new plan.

Reference areas would remain and you would "opt out" of your reference school; it would be your default school. Reference areas would be modified to align with student population in each area (unclear even though the question was asked whether it means kid population versus SPS population) and with building capacity. Accomodate all students in reference area who want school (accomodate those who can't because of grandfathering in a school in their cluster). Maximize walking access to schools. Clusters would give families fewer choices but in a smaller geographic area. Possible staggered school opening and closing times with transportation provided within cluster. Address varying needs around district with, for example, larger clusters in high poverty areas to enhance likelihood of school continuity even if a family moves.

Tracy said, through data analysis, that 80% of elementary students would not be affected by the changes proposed.

Sally Soriano asked about patterns of expansion and contraction as something to think about. Darlene Flynn said reference areas should not be redrawn in a manner that hurts any one school (she gave MLK as an example). Michael deBell and Darlene disagreed about looking at the capture rate at any given school.

Comprehensive Middle Schools

Tracy Libros put forth:

Base attendance would be developed to:
-align with student population in area and with building capacity
-accomodate all students in base middle school if they want to attend that school. Students would start with a base assignment to middle school consistent with elementary cluster.
-maximize walking access
This offers the opportunity for a "cohert" of 5th graders to stay together.
Families could still exercise school choice for another comprehensive or alternative middle school.
Allow for efficient transportation of students who live beyond walking distance.

Cheryl Chow set forth on K-8s which lead to quite the interesting discussion. Cheryl basically said she challenges K-8s to show data on their effectiveness (she said her biasis towards comprehensive). Mark Green, COO, said that at the middle school summit there was some surprise that K-8s did not meet or exceed (in most cases) their demographic and it was an interesting discovery. Brita asked if there were an equitable distribution of K-8s ( they are spread out; every region has at least one but there are, by my count 7 alternatives and 3 traditional with Broadview-Thompson being a new one). Cheryl asked again about the purpose of K-8s and Darlene challenged her on it saying her own kids went to Summit and it worked well for them. Michael stepped in and said that they need data on locations, are they part of alternatives (because K-8 is considered "non-traditional") and why some are all-city and some are regional.

Carla put forth what she had said to the CAC. Both are good choices to have but parents at K-8s have to recognize the limitations which are a mostly static (and smaller) group of kids and fewer academic/arts/sports offerings and for comprehensive, a larger school to support the offerings. There was discussion about why people pick K-8 with classroom behavior, smaller school and safety being issues for people picking K-8. It was questioned whether people want (or pick) K-8 because of their concerns over the state of current comprehensive middle schools.

Michael weighed in with asking about intentionality of some K-8s (I believe he may have been referencing AAA and/or New School) and talked about diversity. Cheryl asked him to define it and he said he considers socio-economic also part of diversity and that we have pockets of it city-wide. Darlene immediately jumped in and told him that the census clearly shows we are a segregated city and that we may just have "incidential diversity".

Comprehensive High Schools

From Tracy Libros: Assignment predictability is just as important but continuity in feeder patterns is lessened as students seek to explore interests and opportunitites at other schools.

Possible Options:
1-no change from current all city choice with tiebreakers
2-all city but process 1st choices first, etc.
3-Geographically-defined designated school (guaranteed if 1st choice, remaining seats are Open Choice)
4-Geographically-defined designated school (guaranteed if 1st choice, percentage of seats provided for Open Choice)

Use of tiebreakers could be used in various ways.

Lots of discussion here. This was the least clear to me in terms of what the directors would agree on. Carla talked about if you created a new magnet high school (like performing arts), you could still have an all-city draw school (or maybe auditions as well). Darlene jumped on this saying no, then neighborhood kids can't get in. Carla said she was talking about a new high school and in the long-term. Brita spoke about the need for equity in offerings like AP. Both Raj and Carla said that they know that Rainier Beach High School needs a lot of help and resources and investment right now. Brita said that some schools did make improvements and have turned around but Darlene said none were in the SE. Michael said he was at Rainier Beach that day and saw a chem lab with no equipment and a great performing arts hall in a school with 1 drama class. He said that the savings realized on redoing the assignment plan should be driven to schools like that. Brita said that Ingraham had not been popular but with rebuilds (the library and labs and athletic fields) and the IB program, it had really come back.

There was also a sheet (which I am distressed to see is not posted on the Assignment Plan page) called High School Assignment Options that gives numbers of 3 different high school groupings (Group 1, for example, is Ballard, Hale, Ingraham and Roosevelt) and breaks out capacity versus students. According to the district's calculations, Group 1 has 52 more seats than students, Group 2 (Cleveland, Franklin, Garfield and RB) have 43 fewer and Group 3 (Chief Sealth and West Seattle) have 288 more seats. (This leaves out, of course, Summit, Nova and Center School, Interagency, etc. which are alternative/non-traditional.) But, in each group, it further breaks it out to find "total seats available for open choice) including in this APP students and students attending other schools and programs. This is somewhat confusing to me so maybe I can ask it be posted so everyone can get a look.

As I said, elementary would, according to staff, not look all that different than it does now. There would be feeder patterns into the middle schools. I believe the Board will keep the sibling tiebreaker. Their biggest challenges (which our great minds should start parsing out) are alternatives (their transportation costs are huge so maybe they need to be regional which, of course, will impact their enrollments and really upset people who want access to TOPS or John Stanford) and high school. The other thing in the mix is the Board wanting diversity but yet calling for feeder patterns. I agree with Darlene; in this city that's going to be incidental diversity because of our housing patterns.

The biggest issue is high school. This plan would dramatically change the face of many high schools because of where people live. If you go with "remaining open seats for Open Choice", you will eliminate Ballard and Roosevelt for anyone not in that area because they would not have any open seats (they have the largest numbers, I believe, for in-area students at their schools) . Darlene would not support any plan that shuts out choice that is not backed up with a specific and real plan to help the struggling high schools. And that means, show me the money first. (Again, my impression based on Darlene's lengthy talking points yesterday.)

If you go with "percentage of seats provided for Open Choice" (Michael de Bell's choice), it will be a challenge to determine the percentage. Is it different from school to school depending on popularity? Is the Board ready to battle the enraged parents that don't get their closest school? What happens to the jazz bands at Roosevelt and Garfield? I'd have to check but I'd be willing to bet that many of the kids at Washington's music program that feed into Garfield's don't necessarily come from that region. What about people shut out of the only biotech program, namely Ballard? I know it wouldn't be fun or easy but maybe they can do a lottery for the open seats but reserve some at Garfield and Roosevelt for auditions for the jazz bands and a special lottery for those students seeking the IB/biotech programs (which are unlikely to get developed elsewhere anytime soon). It seems wrong to have programs that high school students cannot access because of where they live, programs that could help a student get into college.

Peter Maier finally has a website

Here's a link to Peter Maier's website. Here's what he says needs to be done:

"The current School Board is off course and too often unfocused. I will bring three essential qualities to a new Board:
» Leadership.
The School Board's role is to set policy in a steady and consistent manner - insisting that every student has an opportunity to be what she or he wants to be.
» Responsibility.
Once policies are set, the Board must take responsibility to see those policies are carried out by the District staff and in the schools across the city.
» Accountability.
Our District faces long-term financial problems. The Board must hold the District accountable for the funds being spent, and the Board must engage with the community, the Governor and the Legislature in pushing for solutions."
There is no issues area to his website so we'll have to go to forums to see where he stands on various issues.

I'm not sure I understand the phrase, "every student has an opportunity to be what she or he wants to be". That's asking a lot from a district. I'm sure Charlie can speak to the Responsibility one because of the Board's lack of ability to enforce policy.

School Board Forum Last Night

Corrected at 8 am thanks to blogger comment :-)

Last night was "The Future of the Seattle School Board: Why Should You Care?" community forum at Seattle's Town Hall.

See We have the power to make school boards more relevant in the Seattle Times and previous posts on this blog (Washington Appleseed Forum and Board Elections & School District Governance) for more information.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hale's New Principal

It was announced today that Marni Campbell, currently principal at Eckstein, will be Hale's new principal. Eckstein's loss is Hale's gain. My son graduated from Hale last year and I believe it was a good place for him and has many wonderful teachers and staff. I personally thought, however, that the principal was not good in many areas. I find Marni to be friendly but not cloying, firm but not rigid. Of course, this now leaves Eckstein without a principal.

Open Letter to Seattle from Brita Butler-Wall

Dear Members of the Seattle Community,

Four years ago you elected me to the Seattle School Board because the need for reform was so great. Our new board’s strong vision and hard work have paid off. Our district is in far better shape than it has been for decades and is heading in the right direction with new leadership, a firm financial footing, and some very sound policies.

By setting up stringent oversight of the Superintendent and the budget and making tough policy decisions, we have turned the district around. Our board has focused relentlessly on student learning, always with an eye to equity. We have pushed for systems thinking and analysis of data. We have pushed for greater transparency, inclusion, and accountability throughout the system. Relentless focus worked.

We got our finances under control, got operations back on track, put academics in the drivers’ seat, engaged a much wider community, and advocated effectively for children in Olympia. We recently conducted a successful national search and have hired a new and highly-qualified Superintendent with an education background.

This district has a long way to go, however. The community needs to keep up the momentum for reform. The new Superintendent will need to establish clear accountability systems and enforce board policy. She will need to be pro-active in leveraging community expertise and support. The next board will need to continue systematic policy review and continue to raise the bar on the quality of staff work.

It has been an honor to serve on the Seattle school board, first as vice president, then two years as board president, and now as chair of the Student Learning committee. In this time, I have initiated new policies to reduce barriers to student learning, have improved the cohesion and effectiveness of the board, and have initiated a comprehensive review of our policies in Bilingual and Special Education, and Student Discipline.

During my term, I have also been active in the Washington State School Directors’ Association, and was appointed to a statewide 12-member task force on Student Achievement. As a member of the board of the Alliance for Education, I have called for redefining their role vis a vis the district.

Every week of the past four years has been stimulating and challenging. I have aimed to be accessible, responsive, and accountable, with the goal of restoring the integrity of our public school system. This has been fulltime work.

Although it has been gratifying to make a serious contribution to our city for the past four years, I will not be seeking re-election. As with any governmental official overseeing a large, complex urban system, Seattle School Board work is very demanding of time and energy. The challenging position of an urban school board director will never be sustainable until it is properly staffed and fairly compensated.

Our board has shown that effective change is possible. If our community both keeps up the pressure for change and truly supports our public schools, we will see the day when all children get the same high quality education that my own two children have received in Seattle Public Schools.


Brita Butler-Wall, Ph.D.
Immediate Past President and Director, District III
Seattle School Board

Hamilton Rebuild

This article was in the PI this morning about the Hamilton rebuild. There two interesting points in it. One is that the district wants 27 feet from the park. I rechecked the info at Hamilton's site and the question asked on the FAQ is"exactly how much land does the district want" and the answer is not given in a clear number. Also, the questionaire to the community only mentions 11 feet from a garden area. Whether or not it's 27 or 11, this is exactly the kind of thing that gets the district in trouble when these issues come up.

Second, there was a question about when and why the district changed its tune about moving Hamilton into Lincoln after Roosevelt and Garfield were done. (This has never been explained in a clear manner.) Here's what Eleanor Trainer, the Community Liason for Facilities says in the article:

"While previous school district boards may have supported moving Hamilton students to Lincoln, that's not the intent of the current one, she said. There are more families on the north end of the city and a need for secondary schools, Trainor said, adding that there are waiting lists at Ballard and Roosevelt high schools.

"A lot of those students go to private schools, and we would really like to be able to serve them," Trainor said. "Circumstances change; we have to be able to change.""

A need for secondary schools? Well, Ingraham isn't full, Hale isn't running at capacity (and don't want to). But this statement would indicate that they intend to use Lincoln as a secondary school which is pretty much what I was told. (Specifically, Lincoln may become the Center School's new location.) And would this be after they renovate Hale (and likely Ingraham as well)?

Hard to fathom what the district is planning but they do send out signals like this periodically.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Student Assignment Plan

Please make time to attend one or more of the Student Assignment Plan events happening this week and next week. The decisions made about this policy will have far-reaching effects.

Workshops start tonight. Drop-in meetings started last week and continue until May 30th. The schedule of upcoming events is:

Tuesday, May 22, 6:30-8:30 p.m. - Hamilton International Middle School
Thursday, May 24, 6:30-8:30 p.m. - NewHolly Gathering Hall

Drop-in Meetings
Wednesday, May 23, 6:30-8:30 p.m. - Ballard Community Center
Thursday, May 24, 9:00-11:00 a.m. - Garfield Community Center
Thursday, May 24, 1:30-3:30 p.m. - Delridge Community Center
Wednesday, May 30, 3:30 - 5:30 p.m. - John Stanford Center

More details can be found on the Student Assignment Plan page on the district website.

Principal Announcements for 2007-08

An article on the SPS website details principal announcements for 2007-08.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Great story, great school in this article in this morning's Times about a low-income, high non-English speaking school in Auburn. Could SPS learn from this? The best part is the principal's attitude; slow and steady win the race and you need to have fun and high spirits while you do it.

Parents of Disabled Child Win Supreme Court Victory

New ruling from the Supreme court in this article from today's Times. The Supreme Court ruled that a parents does not have to have a lawyer to file a lawsuit against a district in order to fight for services for their disabled child that they feel the district isn't providing. It doesn't mean a parent will win going to court on their own but that they can at least attempt it.

Lakeside article in Crosscut/Seattle Weekly

Well, as if just to prove that issues of race aren't just public school fodder, here is an article by Knute Berger from the on-line 'zine, Crosscuts, that I missed in April. It, in turn, references an excellent article from the Seattle Weekly written by Nina Shapiro. Both are about Lakeside School and its problems with race (seemingly more with faculty than students).

I don't know how much there is to discuss but it makes for interesting reading. I know that Lakeside recruits heavily for minority students and finds most of them in public schools.

We applied for both our sons to get into Lakeside (yes, even I have considered private school). One got in (but didn't go) and the other didn't. Lakeside is a wonderful school, sort of a mini-Ivy league-looking place, with a rarified air. It has some truly enthusiastic kids (one of the articles makes fun of their overseas trip program but the kids who spoke about it called it life-changing and that their view of the world will never be the same - that's pretty much what you want from travel so good for them). They also have some very smart kids, almost scarily so. Nobody at Lakeside wants to play the fool unlike some kids in public school. That's the thrust of the Crosscut article, that Lakeside kids like to excel, relish the challenge and are urged on by being surrounded by that atmosphere. You can't underestimate the effect of peers on a child's ability or desire to learn.

(Bill Gates went there and the article said it was because his mom thought he would be bullied in public school - he went to Laurelhurst Elementary so I suppose she meant Eckstein. Interestingly, his daughter is not going to Lakeside - at least not for middle school - but I'll bet his son will in coming years and probably has an enrollment form already stamped "approved".)

Monday, May 21, 2007

High School Rigor

This article was in the NY Times last week and talks about high school rigor (or the lack thereof). It states that in a survey by ACT that only one-fourth of high school students who take a full college prep load end up ready for college.

This from the president and CEO of ACT:

“What’s shocking about this, is that since ‘A Nation at Risk,’ we have been encouraging students to take this core curriculum with the unspoken promise that when they do, they will be college ready,” she said. “What we have found now, is that when they do, only one in four is ready for college-level work.”

And further,

"In 1999, Clifford Adelman, then a researcher at the federal Education Department, found that the strength of high school work was the most important factor in determining college success, more than the socioeconomic status of a student’s family."

So it is vital that what is being taught, at every high school, be similiarly rigorous and high quality.

Two parts of the article struck me. One is this:

Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, another Washington group that advocates setting standards, said she finds many schools not offering challenging work. “When you look at the assignments these kids get, it is just appalling,” she said. “A course may be labeled college-preparatory English. But if the kids get more than three-paragraph-long assignments, it is unusual. Or they’ll be asked to color a poster. We say, ‘How about doing analysis?’ and they look at us like we are demented.”

In both my son's 8th grade and 9th grade LA classes, he has been asked to "draw a picture" as part of assignments. His 8th grade teacher (this was at Eckstein) said she had to do something for the "artistic" kids. The above paragraph is right on: my son is rarely asked to do beyond a page or page and a half and asked to draw a picture. I asked my son how long he spends on the picture and he said, "Thirty seconds to think it up and a minute to draw it. I don't care about drawing or coloring so I do the minimum." I told him that was just about right. If you want art in high school, take an art class. I want him reading, analyzing and writing in high school.

The second part that rang true to me was this:

"The ACT report also found that students who took more courses than the minimum core performed better on their exams and had a higher chance of doing well in college. Even then, however, college readiness was not assured. But the report said high school students should not have to take more advanced courses to be well prepared after graduation. A rigorous set of core courses should achieve that, they said. With so many high school students not fully prepared for college-level work, some critics say that the continuing push to expand the Advanced Placement Program, which offers college-level work to high school students, is misguided."

I have pushed for more AP but I'd give that the backseat to support good overall rigor in all classes.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Power of Coaching

I used to work with adult literacy, ESL and GED teachers, helping design and facilitate professional development opportunities. Now, I work to design training for the people around the world who answer customers' questions about Adobe software. In both fields, I have seen the power of coaching as a professional development activity. When designed and implemented well, it has transformative power that goes way beyond what is likely to happen from more traditional professional development activities like workshops and lectures.

Happily, Rosalind Wise, K-12 math-program manager for Seattle schools, and Governor Christine Gregoire and the legislature seem to agree with me.

"Currently, Seattle has five districtwide and 10 school-based math coaches. As more are added in the coming years, "We should see a huge increase in the quality of math instruction," Wise said

...Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation May 9 allocating $5.4 million to train a small cadre of 50 math coaches in the 2007-09 biennium and 25 science coaches in 2008-09. The pilot project is part of a $69 million state initiative to boost math and science achievement and includes a revision of state math standards and curriculum, pay incentives for math and science teachers who teach in challenging schools and $40 million in teacher training."

These quotes are from a Seattle Times article today, Math coaches help teachers help kids, that gives me hope that the district's money and effort is being targeted well. Providing good coaching and instructional feedback to math teachers in our district has the potential to create real, positive differences in what kids are learning and how well they are learning it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Two Chances to Share Your Ideas Today

Today is a busy day at Seattle Public Schools. If you want to share your thoughts on the elementary math curriculum adoption or any other issues, you have two chances.
  • Brita Butler-Wall has drop-in office hours at the Honey Bear Bakery in Ravenna from 8 am to 10 am this morning

  • Tonight from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm is the "Meet the new Superintendent" event at the John Stanford Center.

I'll miss both of these opportunities. I'm working this morning and then attending a music performance by my children at Pathfinder tonight. But please, please, please....if you attend these or other district events, e-mail me your notes and I'll share what you have learned with others.

New Public Participation Policy Raises Protest

The Public Participation procedures the Seattle School Board approved in January of this year raised little fuss at the time it was voted on. However, last night at the School Board meeting, people who were unable to testify because of the new priority rules were frustrated enough that they interruped the meeting with a protest. (Protest delays School Board meeting, PI)

I wasn't at the meeting last night, so I don't know what actually happened, but folowing the new policy and procdures, the only people who were given slots on the agenda to testify last night were addressing items on the agenda.

Elementary Math Adoption - which had 18 of the 20 people testifying

Resolution 2006/07-15: Approval of Local Tax General Obligation Bonds for BEX III which Chris Jenkins signed up to testify about.

Amendment to Facilities Master Plan which Maggie Metcalfe signed up to testify about.

K-2 Independent Reading Classroom Libraries were also on the agenda last night but no one was signed up to testify on that item.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Latest From Charleston

This article, Has District Shown Bias?, was in today's Charleston Post-Courier. From my reading of it, it seems there has been a dispute within the district whether two so-called magnet schools have received equity in resources (types of classes offered and numbers of administrators) and allowing transfers made under NCLB.

From the article:

"The investigation targets Charleston Progressive Academy and Buist Academy, two kindergarten through eighth-grade schools on the peninsula. Nearly all of Charleston Progressive students are black, and 69 percent of Buist students are white.

The district denies the allegations and asserts it is operating Buist's academic program the same way it did when the school opened in 1985.

Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson said the district doesn't have a standard for what magnet schools should receive, and she questioned how anyone could accuse the district of discriminating because it lacked that standard. Charleston Progressive and Buist were set up and have been funded differently, she said."

So because their district established no standard, there's no discrimination? That's a little hard to figure. Maybe you might not call it discrimination but rather a lack of equity between the schools. But you'd think that with the obvious race differences in the schools, you might want to be sensitive to making sure that the differences between them weren't so striking.

Again from the article:

"The investigation also will look at whether the district was discriminatory in allowing 87 students to transfer to Charleston Progressive but not allowing any to go to Buist under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The district's policy on transfers excludes magnet schools because they have entrance requirements and waiting lists. Charleston Progressive, like Buist, has both but still accepts transfer students. The district contends that no minority students asked to transfer to Buist under the federal law, according to investigation documents.

The investigation also will look at whether Goodloe-Johnson retaliated against parents who have been vocal about the need to improve low-income schools. The downtown board gave six students approval to transfer to Buist under the federal law, but the superintendent denied the transfers and notified the media before mailing letters to parents, according to investigation documents.

Goodloe-Johnson denied retaliating and said parents knew they couldn't transfer to the school because it's a magnet school."

I'm not sure if under NCLB you can make those decisions if you are talking about a public school. I haven't heard of any kids getting in to, say, TOPS using NCLB. It seems odd that the downtown board would approve transfers (they must have a very different board system) and then Dr. Goodloe-Johnson say no. The idea that she notified the media before the parents is not great news.

PI story on Carla Santorno

This article was in today's PI. Pretty good press for Carla and I give her credit for staking out a position and following thru.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Textbooks and Curriculum

I got an interesting e-mail message from a blog reader (excerpted below) about textbooks and curriculum. And the Seattle PI has an article on the elementary math curriculum adoption process today that relates to this topic: Uniform school math program sought

Denise says:

"...here's something I'm curious about – textbooks and curriculum.

Our third-grade son has attended two different alternative elementary schools, and we have yet to see a single textbook. I assumed this was an alternative school thing, until I learned that one of our friend's daughters, a fourth-grader who has attended two traditional elementary schools in Seattle, also has never had a textbook.

I mention this because without textbooks, it's hard as a parent to tell what curriculum / approach is being used to teach reading, math, etc., and knowing how to best build on that approach at home. I remember as a kid finding textbooks to be helpful when reviewing concepts I'd previously studied, or to see where our class was going with our learning. When I've asked teachers about curriculum (both at my son's school and at prospective schools during tours) they most often seem to be piecing together a combination of curricula, or in some cases cannot clearly identify any curriculum they are using.

I heard from one of the district people that the new elementary math textbooks were made available for review at schools in March – our school never advertised this to parents, despite being a very active, parent-involved school (did the textbooks do the alt school tour as well?). Given that schools don't even use textbooks, I don't know how relevant they'll be anyway. The district person I mentioned this to seemed surprised to hear that elementary schools don't use textbooks.

As an alternative school parent, I'm somewhat leery of one common standardized curriculum for the entire district. On the other hand, if having clearly-defined curricula (and maybe even some textbooks/reference materials to look at) would add transparency and clarity, I'd be all for that.

...I'm curious to know if there are any elementary schools in Seattle that use textbooks, along with parents' thoughts about the current curricula. To pose a question to you that I was recently asked (and could not answer) – do you know what curriculum is being used to teach your child to read?"

SchoolKids Come First website

I was browsing for one thing on Google and found this group, SchoolKids Come First (yet another group I hadn't heard of). Here's their blurb about their work:

"SchoolKidsComeFirst was founded by Dick Lee (Ballard HS ’61) and Rich Carr as an outgrowth of their involvement in and passion for community partnerships and fundraising for all school kids. The site was inspired by a similar venture that has raised over $2 million for New York public schools over the past two years; Dick and Rich believed the Seattle community was just as committed to public education and the future of all their children, and would respond avidly to the opportunity to put their support to active, direct use in the classroom.

SchoolKidsComeFirst solicits proposals from teachers throughout the Seattle Public School system. Projects must involve direct student benefits, and must also provide an experience or an opportunity beyond the textbooks and supplies needed for basic education (which SchoolKidsComeFirst does not fund).

All proposals are screened by SchoolKidsComeFirst to verify the teacher, the school, the principal’s support, the exact purchase requested, the vendor, and the cost. After a project is fully funded, SchoolKidsComeFirst makes the purchase,delivers the materials to the teacher and notifies the donor(s) that the project has been fulfilled. When possible the donor will also receive a thank you letter and photos so they can see and read about the results of their donations. The 15% fulfillment fee included in the funding cost of each project covers the cost of the web site, verification, administration, and documentation. "

FYI in case your school needs help.

K-2 libraries

Looking at tomorrow night's Board Agenda there was this Action item:

K-2 Independent Reading Classroom Libraries (Student Learning) – the Student Learning Committee recommends approval of this item which would authorize expenditures of $1,388,432 for K-2 independent reading libraries in every K-2 classroom in Seattle Schools.

Okay, I know from going through many buildings that not all libraries are created equal. I've seen some really underdeveloped libraries and it puzzles me because I'm not sure why one school would have substantially more books than another. (I know some schools encourage parents to donate a new book in honor of their child's birthday but that can't supply that many more books. I also know that some librarians are more proactive in getting grants to buy books.)

I believe that every school has a library time for each class. Are kids going to read more books if they get them from in their classroom? I know some teachers have reading libraries but usually only for in-class reading.

Since every school already has a library, would it make more sense to find out which ones are underdeveloped and put the money there rather than spread it out?

If I were running for the Board

For me, the primary issue in Seattle Public Schools continues to be the District's structural and cultural inability to respond to the needs of the community.

So what could a Board member do to fix that?

I think the Board could direct the Superintendent to do surveys and other forms of market research. For example, why hasn't the Board asked the Superintendent to make an assessment of the demand for public school services broken down by program and location? How can we even begin to form either a student assignment plan or a facilities plan without that data? There are a number of other surveys that would be helpful, I'm sure.

The Board could ask for a public input column on every Board action like they now require a fiscal note. The staff would have to disclose how and when they solicited public input, and the volume and content of what they received. This would create a structural element to support the cultural shift towards gathering public input and getting it early. If the public input is inadequate, the Board could defer action until that situation is remedied - just as they would do now if the fiscal note were too vague or incomplete.

Members of the Board could call on an involved and knowledgable member of the community to answer questions or perhaps even to ask questions of staff members at committee meetings, work sessions, and legislative meetings. For people who claim to want dialog, they never initiate any, they never even allow it. All they would have to do is call on someone and ask "What is your perspective?". Can you imagine that - if Jane Fellner or Chris Jackins were called to answer questions from the podium at a legislative meeting? Wouldn't that be exactly the kind of meaningful communication and dialog that everyone claims they want, but nobody does?

To improve accountability, the Board could have each Board Action item to list the names and positions of all of the participants in the recommendations, perhaps even with some details about the nature and extent of their contributions. This would enable the Board to ask why other stakeholders (such as community members, but also staff from other departments) were not represented. This could break down some silos. It would also justify the Board's asking those stakeholders to offer their input at the either the Committee meeting or the legislative meeting during the discussion of the Action Item.

Finally, every program and initiative should have a sunset provision so that it is automatically revoked unless renewed. First, this would enforce the annual program review requirement. Second, at the renewal vote, the program's outcome would be reported so the decision to continue a program can be based on data and only the programs that hold the promise of effectiveness are renewed.

These are the sort of real reforms that a Board member could implement to bring about the sort of changes that we want.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Washington Appleseed Forum

I had to look up the "Leadership Tomorrow" group as I had never heard of them. It looks like they have been around since at least 1984 as a leadership development group. It looks like they pick people in positions of leadership and help them gain more/new skills. Most of them are business community members. From my perspective, I'm fairly wary what this new group, Washington Appleseed, and Leadership Tomorrow are hoping to accomplish. A few people who attended the Washington Appleseed meet-ups said it seemed they were pushing for appointed school boards. It's worth looking into if only have a good understanding of what is out there.

"The Washington Appleseed is having a School Board Forum on Wednesday, May 23, 2007 at 7 pm

Location: Downstairs at Town Hall, enter on Seneca Street.

The troubled Seattle School District has just hired a new superintendent. Four of seven seats on the school board are up for election this fall. What is the role of the superintendent vs. the role of the school board? What are the skills needed by school board members? What does a high functioningschool board look like? Why should the community care?

Washington Appleseed and Leadership Tomorrow present a moderated panel discussion with Q & A about these issues and what is the best fit for Seattle. Panelists to be announced will be drawn from academia, business leadership, political pollsters, and governance experts.

Downstairs at Town Hall, enter on Seneca Street.

Free, no tickets required. Visit www.washingtonappleseed.org for more information."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Equity and Race Relations in SPS

So I hadn't gone to this area of the SPS' website in a long time. I was reading another blog where what is in this area was largely railed against by many people. It's hard to know what to say because it's a quilt of many different squares, some of which make sense and others, well, not so much.

For example, on the calendar (which the staff takes pains to say they tried really hard to cover everything), I see things that I don't get. One is National Tartan Day for the Scottish. What? And they leave out Ramadan (which is a pretty important, monthlong Islamic tradition).

For some of the terms/definitions used, I have a hard time believing both the Superintendent and Board signed off on these. Oddly, Darlene Flynn is quoted but as a "Race and Social Justice Trainer" but not as a Board member.

They have many types of professional development opportunities for SPS employees which is great. However, they have one presenter, Sakara Remmu, who has been at many Board meetings and has been openly hostile to the Board and has addressed them in a derisive manner. She has mocked the Board and the Superintendent publically on their cultural awareness. I cannot believe she has been hired to teach cultural competency to district staff.

The website area has a FAQs section and one question they try to answer is "What about the melting pot idea?" and it's pretty much dismissed. I'm not sure the melting pot idea is the issue (or is valid anymore for the US); the issue is whether we live in a shared society. I was watching a documentary on Israeli and Palestine children and one Palestian child had moved to the US during adolescence. He said he was astonished at how so many different kinds of people live in this country and freely express their differences and yet live fairly harmoniously. And that is the beauty of the United States. This ability to embrace and yet not restrict anyone's right to be who they are. But, at the end of the day, we need to be a country. We can't forget that even as we try to educate ourselves on differences and how to be sensitive and open about them.

I remember a conversation with my mom (and Happy Mother's Day to all the moms) years ago. She was describing her life during WW III (she was a teenager) and how everyone rationed and participated in blackout drills. I asked her how the government got everyone to go along with this (you'll have to know that I had this discussion with her during the Vietnam War era). She just looked at me and said, "Honey, there was a war going on. Thousands and thousands of guys were gone and we left behind had to do what we can to support them. It was our duty." The reason I bring this up is because if we constantly look for what divides us, we may never be able to unite for any common cause. We have thousands of soldiers in a war and yet most people go on as if nothing were happening. (This may be a bad example because of the differences in circumstances between WW II and this war.) But maybe a better example was right after 9/11. I remember thinking that this was our Pearl Harbor. The world was mourning with us and offering support and help. We had so much momentum for good will and crossing barriers that separated us both domestically and internationally. And it got squandered.

Education is the great leveler in this country (for many people). My point is if we only talk about what divides us, if that is the sole basis of any conversation on race and culture, what is going to unite us? Is that possible and is it important?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Board Elections & School District Governance

Starting this week, "Meet-up" discussions about Seattle school district governance are happening around the city, sponsored by Washington Appleseed, Community & Parents for Public Schools Seattle, and Schools First. (see Host a Spring Meet-up and Education Meetups In May)

At the same time, discussions about School Board elections are heating up. (see Who's running for Seattle School Board?, Candidate Forum and School Board Candidate web sites)

I've heard a lot of anti-incumbent rhetoric about the current School Board members, and even indulged in a bit myself at times when I was most frustrated. But I don't think having a large turnover of School Board members every two years is good for our district. I hope that voters do some research and think carefully about which Board members should stay on and which should go.

However, since no incumbents have officially announced they are running for re-election, this might be a moot point.

Geov Parrish wrote a piece on this topic recently that sounds like it could have been written by Charlie Mas. Read Seattle's great school hoax (Beacon Hill News) for a good reminder that while it is easy and fashionable to bash the current School Board members, the criticism is not necessarily well-founded.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Student Assignment Plan web site

The District has created a new web site specifically for the review of the Student Assignment Plan.

The web site includes information about meetings and events for community participation. The site also claims to offer the same information that is being provided to Board members.

So far, the District has scheduled these opportunities for community members to participate in the discussion process about the New Student Assignment Plan:

Community Forums:
Tuesday, May 22, 6:30 - 8:30 pm
Hamilton International Middle School, Auditorium, 1610 North 41st Street

Thursday, May 24, 6:30 - 8:30 pm
NewHolly Gathering Hall, 7054 32d Avenue South

Drop-in Meetings:
Wednesday, May 16, 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 pm
John Stanford Center, 2445 Third Avenue South, Room 3700

Wednesday, May 23, 6:30 - 8:30 pm
Ballard Community Center, 6020 28th Avenue NW

Thursday, May 24, 9:00 - 11:00 am
Garfield Community Center, 2323 East Cherry Street

Thursday, May 24, 1:30 - 3:30 pm
Delridge Community Center, 4501 Delridge Way SW

Wednesday, May 30, 3:30 - 5:30 pm
John Stanford Center, 2445 Third Avenue South, Room 2700

Roosevelt Waitlist

Just to let you know, I attended our Site Council meeting last night and the Roosevelt waitlist has moved 60-70 places. Better than the 30 they had been at. We asked if they were taking on more students and the answer was no, that they had been making calls to see who was coming for sure and that's how it moved. (Do I necessarily believe that answer? No but that's what was given. ) Roosevelt lets the district know how many spaces they have and the Enrollment office makes the assignments.

It's sad because Roosevelt is having problems with non-students coming to Roosevelt to hang out (both students from other schools, dropouts and over 18 slackers). But some of the people, I know, are Roosevelt students. It's sad because so many students (or their parents) want to get in and yet many students just don't show up. Too bad the district couldn't, after 10-15 absences in a quarter, tell parents of those students that they would be transferring their student to another school and let a student on the waitlist in. But, there's no guarantee those students would be any better.

A Blog from Charleston about the Superintendent

This is a link to a blog that appears in the Post-Courier in Charleston.

Candidate Forum

This from another blog:



Too bad it is the same night as the Superintendent meet and greet. It seems like the meet and greet would be a great opportunity for candidates to meet the public. I'm a little torn which one to go to on the 17th.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Op-Ed in Seattle PI

"Putting Trust Back in Seattle Schools" is the title of an op-ed in the PI this morning by Betty Hoagland (former Seattle Council PTSA president and now president of Schools First) and Lisa MacFarlane (longtime public education activist). Schools First did a survey, in late 2006 (anybody participate?) about Seattle schools asking parents and voters.

There are various piecharts for five questions (it is unclear if only 5 were asked but I don't see a link to the survey so probably). One thing that is interesting is that no matter what the district or Board say, people still think we have financial problems. (78% of all voters have a negative belief and 86% of parents have a negative belief.) But the piechart says "budgeting and handling of finances" so I'm not sure if that means people believe we are solvent (the district says we are in the black) or if people agree with how things are being done to manage finances (i.e. school closures will save money).

I'm surprised by the results for "listening to the community" with voters at 59% positive and parents at 62% positive. With all the calls for more community engagement I wouldn't have thought this would be the vote.

And, we approve of our teachers with voters by 71% and parents by a whopping 90%. Again, not quite what I would have expected but it certainly signals unhappiness at the management level and not the school level.

They also clear up some confusion in my mind about the upcoming Board elections. I had been confused by the early date to run for Board (I clearly remember a July deadline but it's early June this year). This from the op-ed:

"For the first time, we will vote in a summer primary, on Aug. 21. Voters should mark their summer calendars and be sure to request absentee ballots if they are going to be on vacation. It is too important to skip this school assignment."

Well, that changes things. I really didn't know the primary was in August. If you are running for school board that really makes for a different strategy. Right in the depths of summer, there's the primary? I wonder how that happened. I'll try to write a separate piece about what I've seen about how school board elections are different from most other ones (maybe Charlie can chime in as well as he ran for the Board) but basically, you need every single vote for the Board. I know that sounds oblivious but the point is that when you look at election results for an election that includes the Board, you see that Board candidates generally get far fewer votes than other candidates. Meaning, you might see 100,000 people cast ballots for Mayor and out of that voting pool only 50,000 cast ballots for the Board. (My theory is that it's like the judicial and port races; people just don't know those people and are wary of casting a vote.)

So in the primary in the dead of summer, I would think even fewer people would vote, making it really important to have a solid base to propel you to the general. Of course, so far, there's only one race that has 3 people and that's Darlene Flynn's district with Lisa Stubing and Sherry Carr running. If there's only 2 people in each race, then they'll just go onto the general.

One other thing about the upcoming vote in November. The ballot will contain the Simple Majority vote for levies. I was listening to a KUOW program that had the heads of the state Republican and Democratic parties. The Republican made it clear that they will campaign against Simple Majority because it makes it too easy to raise property taxes. When pressed about the value to education to having a simple majority for levies, the Republican shrugged it off and said a good district shouldn't have a problem passing a levy if what they are asking for is fair. I bring this up not to put down Republicans but to point out that there will be a clear and organized opposition to Simple Majority in the fall.