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?


Anonymous said…
Having served as a parent rep on my school’s BLT, I believe that the District’s plan for closing the achievement gap is to pass it down to the individual schools (one of the weaker sides of building based management, IMO). Our transformation plan (as well as our (five year old) mission and vision) is very much focused on closing the achievement gap. I have been told that this was a requirement of the Gates grant that funded the creation of the transformation plans (at least it was a funded mandate-unlike NCLB). As a result, most of our discretionary spending (odds and ends from the District and a big chunk of our fundraising) has gone to ‘reduce the achievement gap.’ Since we have a broad range of socioeconomics overall and within racial groups (for a given grade level we have about 26 White, 16 Asian, 9 Black, 7 Hispanic and Native American), it is unclear to me how we will ever measure closing the gap. Real understanding of statistical analysis doesn’t seem to be part of the plan. (I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to claim that most statisticians agree that 30 is a minimum n for a meaningful analysis.)

-Former econometrics instructor
Anonymous said…
Charlie -

I appreciate your knowledge, visionaryapproach, and strategic thinking. If you would choose to run for school board, you could count on me as campaign manager TC
Charlie Mas said…
I don't think "Order the schools to figure it out" is really a plan.

Moreover, I don't believe that there is any meaningful review or oversight of School Transformation Plans. I have read a lot of these plans and I can tell you that a lot of substandard documents are getting approval.

It isn't a plan if it doesn't have benchmarks, and I have yet to read a School Transformation Plan that does.

Since the gap is supposed to be closed by bringing every student up to Standard, why don't the plans include the identification of students working below or just above Standards and giving them the extra assistance they need? Yet I have not read many plans like that.

I don't see the District giving schools any support towards closing the gap beyond doing what they have always done. It hasn't worked yet; what makes them think that it will suddenly start working?
Michael Rice said…

I think for the Achievement Gap to be closed, one fundamental action needs to take place. There has to be the political will to stop promoting students to the next grade just because the school year ends. This does a tremendous disservice to struggling students. What is being said to all students in grades k-8 is , "well you did not master all the requirements of this grade, but we are going to send you on to the next grade, so you can fail there also."

Of course when these students get to high school, they don't have the necessary skills to be successful in high school. What changes in high school is that you now need credits to graduate. Just because the school year ends, you are not going to the next grade. You need 5 credits to be a Sophomore, 10 to be a Junior, and 15 to be a Senior. If you don't have the credits, you are not promoted. I see this every day. I have 17 year old Freshman. These students have no chance to graduate and are sentenced to a life of struggle and hardship.

I know many of you reading this are thinking that this sort of solution will destroy a student's self-esteem. My thought on that is, isn't a little hardship now a way better thing to make sure a student has the skills necessary to be a productive, informed and engaged citizen when they are an adult?

For this to end, there needs to be some serious discussion and consideration about changing the way students are promoted before they reach high school. I don't claim to have the answer, I know the idea of having 18 year olds in middle school with 12 year olds is a terrible idea, but I sure would like to hear some ideas on how to make this possible.
I absolutely agree with Michael. It is probably very painful all around to hold a child back. But if the child can't do grade level work or the system doesn't have an automatic triage plan if kids do get promoted who are not ready, who does it hurt?

From my reading about high school dropouts, the combination of not enough credits for your age level, too many absences and not being able to do the work when you are there is the triple whammy.
Anonymous said…
We have a long way to go before we can hold a student back. We don't even give grades in elementary school. Heck, I have a 6th grader at Salmon Bay Middle School and he doesn't get grades. Neither of my children have ever taken a test (aside from the mandatory WASL). I sometimes wonder how a teacher even knows how a student is truly at grade level??

Leaving kids behind in the earlier years vs. High School still results in 17 year old freshman. However the younger a student receives intervention, the better the chance of a good outcome.

What I would like to see is a system in place to assist struggling students BEFORE they have to be held back. When you have a 4 th grader who is not capable of doing 4th grade work, perhaps there could be remedial programs with a smaller student/teacher ratio, tutoring, or mandatory summer school. Perhaps many of these struggling students could be brought up to grade level with some early intervention??? For the ones who just can't, then holding them back would be more appropriate at the younger grades.It gives them a shot at catching up. To pass them along just perpetuates the problem, and it is much more difficult to deal with at High school when dropping out, skipping class, drugs etc come into play.
Anonymous said…
I’m not a teacher, so I have no education theory to back me up but. . . I wonder if just holding kids back a grade doesn’t generally work because those kids learn in a different way—it’s not just that they are developmentally back a step and need more time.

Our school splits 1st and 2nd graders into groups by reading level. In the first year of the program, all of the kids (1st or 2nd grade) who read at level (say) E were put in the same group. After a year of this, teachers noticed that the 2nd graders at level E took a lot longer to progress to F than the first graders did. Now it is quite rare for first and second graders to be mixed because not only are they at different levels, they are moving at different speeds and need different strategies. (In practice, the 2nd graders reading at a first grade level are put in smaller groups than the first graders at a first grade level).

Wouldn’t this be true of most kids who don’t meet standard? Holding them back will put them at the correct academic level for awhile, but then the younger kids will just pass them by. Maybe we need special (needless to say smaller) classes for kids who haven’t met standard. Right now, our school pulls those kids out for small group intensive work with specialists (ESL or LAP) and parent volunteers. They seem to miss a lot of class time (especially things like read aloud, social studies and science). That doesn’t seem optimal but at least they get extra help and progress with their age cohort.

Do schools that have “split” classes (e.g., 1-2 splits with advanced 1st graders and delayed 2nd graders) close the achievement gap more effectively than other schools? Do any schools in Seattle divide classes at a given grade level by test scores? If so, does that reduce or exacerbate the gap?

Anonymous said…
I haven't ever heard of split classes around here being assigned on the basis of ability (it wouldn't work in schools where part of the point is for kids to loop with the same teacher for two years), but maybe it does happen some places. The closest I've heard is what North Beach was doing with cross-grade math groupings. Don't know if that's still going on.

Helen Schinske
FYI to Anonymous from Salmon Bay; the WASL is NOT mandatory except in 10th grade. It is mandatory for the district to give it, not for your child to take it. You can opt out one time or every year if you want.
Anonymous said…
Michael, that will never happen. You're going to have to get used to the fact that no, kids aren't going to come in as you want them. Pushing the problem somewhere else (like to another grade) doesn't solve it. And, you noted the problem of 18 yo's in middle school.... you could go even lower than that, with 18 yo's in elementary school. You're going to have to teach them as they are, from where they are, and how they need it. Like it or not, that's the job.
Anonymous said…
To anonymous at Salmon Bay: I also have a sixth grader at SB, as well as a recent SB graduate. No, the sixth graders don't receive letter grades; however their evaluations do consistently show a percentage score of correct work, which is easily translatable into standard grading levels. Tests are regularly given in math, spelling and science over work covered before moving on. I'm unsure of why the teacher would not know whether a child was performing on grade level, as daily work is closely monitored as well. I do know that a couple of the sixth grade teachers do not consistently update the Source (which appears to be an issue in other schools as well); however every teacher I've worked with over my four years of association with Salmon Bay has responded very favorably to phone calls, e-mails, etc. for more information about a students progress.

I just want to add a few additional comments, as there have been many negative comments about SB (and actually about Hale as well) in this blog over the past couple of weeks, and remind everyone of what Beth put so beautifully in her blog last January when asking folks to discuss schools they were familiar with during the open enrollment period: that what makes one school a nightmare for one family may be precisely what makes it a wonderful fit for another family. Some of the unique features of SB, including the Fridays spent in the community doing service learning, the snowboarding Fridays (which, incidentally, are made up for through the addition of minutes to each regular school day), and the attention to the "whole child," are very important reasons why my family chose SB for our children during this critical life period of early adolescence. Educators such as Montessori and Piaget point to developmental "windows" for learning different skills, and point out some critical issues in early adolescence, including the need to be actively and physically engaged in learning. Montessori even suggests doing away with classrooms altogether during this time period and employing the 12-14 year old in physical labor on the farm (not practical anymore!), putting learning into practical use, and discovering the need for further knowledge. I see the service learning piece as one way to incorporate bits of this sage wisdom into the life of the current young teen, as well as a way to instill in the child the understanding that we exist as part of a community that is investing in their education, so we need to give back! We do this as a family as well, but it is wonderful to be in a community that shares this value. Anyway, I probably digress from this precise topic, but have been frustrated in the past, and finally have a little time to post a response to the many comments that sound snarky about progressive models of education, rather than understanding the value of such "diversions" and recognizing that the school or model might not be the best fit with your particular child or family. (And I do get that as well - I have a younger child who might do better in a more "traditional" structure - something we'll consider carefully as we get closer to middle school decisions.)
Charlie Mas said…
From the District's Strategic Framework:

"Themes: Academic Achievement and the Achievement Gap
* Quality and effective teachers for every student in every classroom throughout the district
* Focused work toward the elimination of the achievement gap and disproportionality through the use of culturally competent strategies
* Rigorous core curriculum, assessments, and instructional resources, aligned to standards
* Effectively serve student populations with special needs such as Special Education, bilingual and advanced learners
* Rigorous program evaluation to understand what works

The only element on this list specifically addressing the gap is the one about using culturally competent strategies. I notice, however, that the last item also suggests that we evaluate programs to determine what works.

I have to ask: does cultural competence really work? I don't see the evidence for it. Could there be a school with a more culturally competent curriculum and staff for African-American students than the AAA? And are the results from the AAA anything that we would want to duplicate? Has the AAA proven effective? I don't think so. When the AAA is effective, that outcome is NOT attributable to cultural competence, but to an intense focus on the WASL by specific teachers.

I'm looking forward to the implementation of specific action steps and strategies to achieve these goals. I'm looking forward to metrics, assessments and benchmarks. I have every confidence that Ms Santorno will provide them. I also have every confidence that she will implement.

I am concerned that the emphasis on algebra as a benchmark here is not well supported by the selection of Everyday Math and CMP II as the math curricula
Anonymous said…
RE Salmon Bay..."what makes it a nightmare for one family makes it a wonderful fit for another"

I agree, and that is why I LOVE choice. But Salmon Bay has not worked for US. I will list my reasoning.

1) I do not like all of the Fridays out of school. Between service learning, the ski program, dances, roller skating etc. we have missed most Fridays at school. While I agree that service learning and out of classroom experiences are valuable, they come at the expense of academics. I just don't think he can afford to miss 1/5 th of a school year???

2) SB has full period homeroom. I haven't figured out why? No other middle schools do?? They have no academic exectations in homeroom, so again they are missing an academic opportunity. My sons teacher reads out loud to the group. Every day. He is BORED to tears. So besides the 1/5 of the school year he misses out on academics on the out of classroom activities, you can deduct another 1/6 of every day for home room.

3) While there are a lot of families that choose SB for the progressive model of education that they offer, many others choose it because they think it provides a soft landing for their behaviorally challenged children. There are a lot of behavior issues at Salmon Bay, and in my opinion they are not dealt with. Couple this with the special ed inclusion program and you have a chaotic, unruly classroom. In my sons class there are two spec ed students who cause major distractions EVERY day. One sits in a corner and screams, pulls his hair and attacks other students. The other has huge blow ups, curses out the teacher and any students around him, throws chairs etc. It's just not fair to the average kid, who just wants to learn in a calm environment.

4)Though no fault of the school, I do not like the all city draw concept. My son does not get together with his friends very much because they are all over town, and I do not know the parents of his friends.

5) The bus ride is awful. One hour each way. That two hours of his day on a bus!!!!! Not to mention the atroccious behavior on the bus.

6) There is no consistency. Most of his teachers do not use The Source. We had to request his report card. It wasn't sent home. I don't think academics are the focus at this school.

7) Homework is almost non existent. He may get a 1/2 hour per week. My elementary age child gets much more! I am scared that HS is going to be a rude awakening for him, and I feel as though he is being cheated out of academic rigor at Salmon Bay.

8) He was just asked to do a book report and the teacher stressed that it shoul be at least 1 page long. 1 PAGE!!! He did full book reports in 4th/5th grade. Why would SB accept such minimal work, when the kids are capable of so much more.

Anyway, thats my perspective. We want a challenging, rigorous program and while SB is sweet in many other ways, they are not even close to the plate with academics.
Anonymous said…
Michael, meet the achievement gap. My son is disabled and he will be in your class. He's pretty severely disabled, but there will be another 10% or so, of your class with some disability. My son may or may not be at grade level when he gets there. He's quite good at math but probably not at the standard the way you'd like. People who love splitting people up along all sorts of lines (one being ability) will not succeed in ridding you of your obligation to teach him. Since you ARE going to teach him at whatever level he comes in, with whatever accommodations he needs, when he's the age to be in your grade, why not do the same for everyone else?

Until you (and the district) are committed to him, there will be an achievement gap for everyone... because his issues really are the same as those for everyone else who falls into the achievement gap category.
Charlie Mas said…
I think that the district can enforce promotion standards, but they can only do it if they have some plan for getting those kids quickly up to the Standard and returning them to the general education classroom.

In fact, I don't know how we are ever going to close the gap if we do not set and maintain high expectations for all students.
Anonymous said…
Why would you insinuate that Michael Rice just doesn't want to teach your disabled child?? That's a low blow. I read Michael's posting as being concerned for the well being of these children and his idea on how to help close the achievement gap. I didn't read it as a "slacker" teachers perspective who is just trying to get out of doing his job.

Listen, if you want to share info., and learn from one another, you can't attack people for sharing their opinions. And then not sign YOUR name.
Anonymous said…
I also don't think Michael meant to hold back children with a "severe" disability like your child. I think he was speaking about regular ed kids who are not at grade level. Surely you can understand how frustrating it must be for a child who has not mastered 4th grade skills, to move forward and be expected to work at a 5th grade level. What is so wrong with having expectations, and requiring kids to meet them?? Without expectations what do you get??
Anonymous said…
Regarding Michael Rice's comment on, I think the biggest blow to self-esteem is promotion through a school system when you're not learning and you know it, everyone knows it, and yet it just keeps on happening. When this happens, the system is broken. How often is this happening? My kids aren't in middle school yet, so I might not be seeing it because of their grade levels.

I also see that I'm very uninformed, because I thought that one of the side benefits of WASL testing would be end of social promotion.

I use WASL scores as a guide. They’re not the total picture for me, but I view them as a general indicator of whether or not my kids learned what they needed to learn at their grade level.

I also have a standard. I fully expect my children to exceed expectations on the WASL. I know they can do it. I make sure of it. When I see homework not being turned in, not completed, I find out why. If one of my children is having difficulty, I’m on the phone with our teacher ASAP. If there are several school nights where TV is off and games off limits, so be it. My kids don’t get a do-over for a very important decade that happens between age 10 and 20.

Do my kids sometimes complain that they’re “nerds” because they’re not outside after 8 pm on a school night with other kids in our neighborhood? Yes, they sometimes do. And my only concern is why on earth the other parents in our neighborhood don’t have the same curfew!

With the stakes so high, I'm also ready to give teachers permission to complain to parents when homework isn’t done, when kids show up late or not at all. I think they have a responsibility to ask parents what they’re doing at home to help their kids. I think parents have an obligation to answer honestly. And after teachers hear these answers, I think they should then have the power to order up solutions: tutoring paid in full by the district, intervention if social needs are unmet or if the family need assistance, or a simple homework plan all three parties agree to, whatever it takes to make sure the child will not only begin to meet expectations, but eventually exceed them. WenG
Anonymous said…
Addendum: I got carried away and forgot to mention that I appreciate Michael Rice's comment. I would like to see SPS do what other districts do: offer summer academy. Not just for students who are failing, but also for those who are bored, who *want* to keep attending school, or to try out things they can't do during the regular school year. If more schools went to a year-round schedule, I think it would be a great step forward. WenG
Anonymous said…
I hate the idea of year round school. I agree that it would be useful for students who need to "catch up", but for the regular ed population I think it would cause burn out. Kids need a break. We are sooooo over scheduled all year long....summer is a time that many (not all) kids can relax. Fortunately my husband and I can juggle our work schedules so one of us can be home with them in the summer, and we love to piddle around at the beach, spend long days on a hike, stay up late and roast marshmallows in the backyard, etc. I remember how much I looked forward to summer break when I was a kid, and I wouldn't take that away from my children for anything in the world. My kids are above average achievers and we do not have the academic concerns that others may have. I think summer school is appropriate on a case by case basis to bring kids up to standard.
Anonymous said…
So "anonymous" is not OK, but "north end mom" is?


Anonymous said…
I think that the idea is to be able to respond to a specific post and know which one you are responding to. If there are seven anonymous posts and you want to respond to one, how could you respond and identify the one you were responding to? An alias IE North end mom, keeps you anonymous, but allows others to respond to your post.

to North end mom....


to anonymous (how would you know which one)

It's not rocket science...duh
Anonymous said…
I think that the idea is to be able to respond to a specific post and know which one you are responding to. If there are seven anonymous posts and you want to respond to one, how could you respond and identify the one you were responding to? An alias IE North end mom, keeps you anonymous, but allows others to respond to your post.

to North end mom....


to anonymous (how would you know which one)

It's not rocket science...duh
Anonymous said…
Also, with an alias you can keep track of who said what. With multiple anonymous posters in a conversation it's hard to keep track of which anonymous said what, and which anonymous responded to which anonymous. It's just more clear with an alias.

Beth good luck with this blog. It seems that there has been a turn from having many informative posters and contributors to some who just want to make waves. I hope you can use some type of filter or delete the posts with ugly tones.

To anonymous...nex time try basic manners like we teach our children. You could have said...I am wondering what the difference is in using an alias and using anonymous? The tone is much different, than "So "anonymous" is not OK, but "north end mom" is?hmmmmmm........"
Charlie Mas said…
If people who want to make waves don't get the reaction they crave, they will go away.

Usually they can just be ignored. They usually don't add anything to the conversation. If they raise a legitimate issue, they should be answered. The trick is to address the issue without lowering the conversation.

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