Friday, June 29, 2007

High school credit for courses taken in middle school

I recognize that there are only a few thousand students with this problem, and that the content is likely to get very legal and technical.

My daughter, along with a number of other students, took an Integrated I math class at Washington Middle School this past year. Integrated I is a high school level math course. Washington offers Integrated I, Integrated II and Integrated III. So does Eckstein. Hamilton and a number of other schools offer Integrated I, as it is the math class that Spectrum students typically take in the 8th grade.

According to State Law, RCW 28A.230.090,

" (4) If requested by the student and his or her family, a student who has completed high school courses before attending high school shall be given high school credit which shall be applied to fulfilling high school graduation requirements if:

(b) The academic level of the course exceeds the requirements for seventh and eighth grade classes and the course would qualify for high school credit, because the course is similar or equivalent to a course offered at a high school in the district as determined by the school district board of directors."

There is no doubt that Integrated I exceeds the requirements for seventh and eighth grade classes and that it would qualify for high school credit because it is the same course that is offered at our high schools for credit. It must be similar or equivalent because the Integrated I class taken at Washington uses the same textbook, covers the same material and is accepted as the pre-requisite for the Integrated II course, just like the Integrated I course given at our high schools.

So I wrote to the Student Learning Committee, with copies to Phil Brockman, Ruth Medsker, and Carla Santorno, requesting high school credit for my daughter. In my email, I referenced the state law and quoted it.

Phil Brockman wrote back to me today and quoted Board Policy D46.01 which says:

"No high school credit will be granted until a student is enrolled in a high school as a ninth grade student. (WAC 180.51.030, RCW 28A.05.060)."

I immediately wrote back to him with the news that RCW 28A.05.060 has been repealed and that the new state law is the one I quoted in my original email message.

I also pointed out to him that the WAC referenced in the Policy, WAC 180-51-030, says:

"As used in this chapter the term "high school credit" shall mean:

(1) Grades nine through twelve or the equivalent of a four-year high school program, and grades seven and eight under the provisions of RCW 28A.230.090 (4) and (5):"

In short, I wrote, the District Policy relies on a repealed law and is therefore obsolete and void. This was something I learned in the course of the discussion around Policy D12.00 this year. If a Board Policy is contradicted by a later Policy or a law, the new Policy or law supercedes the older one and renders it void.

While the law does allow the Board to determine by written policy what is and is not eligible for high school credit (WAC 180-51-050 (6)), that written policy must conform to the state law. The law very clearly says that credit SHALL be awarded in cases such as my daughter's, that the law was written for exactly this sort of situation, and that the District does not have discretion in this case. They must award the credit.

If I prevail on this point - and I am extremely confident that I will - then my daughter will get high school credit for this year's math class and, if I request it, next year's math class as well. With two years of high school math completed, she will have satisfied the math portion of her graduation requirements before her first day at Garfield. That will allow her to be more flexible in her scheduling.

More than that, it is what is fair. We often hear district leaders say that students should get credit based on what they learn, not how long they sit in a class. How much more arbitrary is it for the students to either get credit or not based on the building where they sat?

Some families with students taking high school math classes in middle school might not want to follow this path because schools have been known to deny access to advanced math classes for juniors and seniors on the basis that the class is an elective for the students because they have already completed the two years of math required to graduate. This should not be a concern. If your child intentionally fails the math portion of the WASL they are required to take four years of math to graduate. Therefore the advanced math class is no longer an elective but a graduation requirement. The student can always pass the Math portion of the test at any time to get rid of the requirement when it is no longer convenient.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Supreme Court Rejects Use of Racial Tiebreaker, 5-4

The Supreme Court today struck down both Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle's use of race in their school assignment plans (as presented to the Court). The vote was 5-4 down the conservative versus liberal lines with Justice Kennedy being the swing vote. Here's the article from the Times.

Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion:

"Yet Justice Anthony Kennedy would not go as far as the other four conservative justices, saying in a concurring opinion that race may be a component of school district plans designed to achieve diversity. To the extent that Roberts' opinion can be interpreted to foreclose the use of race in any circumstance, Kennedy said, "I disagree with that reasoning." He agreed with Roberts that the plans in Louisville and Seattle violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection."

Justice Kennedy leaves the door open to carefully crafting an enrollment policy that uses race as a factor but, of course, the devil is in the details. Would the district take another shot at it? Between the lean to neighborhood schools and the loss of this case, I doubt it.

So that leaves the district largely where they have been in the past 6 years (temporarily) but where they are now permanently, not being able to use the racial tiebreaker as it was crafted. They likely could use the option of economic hardship as a tiebreaker. That, I believe, would likely stand up to public and court scrutiny.

Or the district could do nothing. Doing nothing will surely segregate our schools. This isn't the district's fault. This city has a sad past of redlining real estate and that legacy can't be undone, not at today's housing prices and with now-established neighborhoods. The south end and alternative schools would likely be the most diverse schools in the district. The district has indicated in the past that they wanted to make some alternatives like TOPS and AAA (maybe all of them except Summit) regional schools which would further curb diversity.

All of this is now in play with the on-going work on the enrollment plan. I recall a couple of years ago Roosevelt students going to a couple of Board meetings protesting the change from yellow bus service to Metro (thus meaning fewer south end kids would make the trip north). If there was an economic tie-breaker, students from all over the city might be able to make the trip (in the future) to Roosevelt and Franklin as they will be right by the light-rail stations.

Does diversity matter? It used to be a strong issue for the Board to fight for. It will be interesting to ask SB candidates what they would propose and how important they feel creating diversity in our schools is.

It also will be interesting to see what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's take on this is. She, of course, does not create policy but she certainly could give her input. FYI, her first Board meeting is July 11th.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Inequities and solutions

There are inequities - both perceived and real - between schools. Let's face it, anything separate is inherently unequal. While we must accept this non-uniformity, we want our schools to be equivalent, or, barring that, we want them all to be at least adequate. I think that "Every School a Great School" is a wonderful goal, but I think we should start with "Every School an Adequate School" and work up from there.

So what are the inequities?

In elementary school I think they are class size, access to enrichment (arts, field trips, etc.), and access to challenging curricula. More than that, there is a serious concern that some schools are not setting and maintaining sufficiently high expectations for students.

In middle school they are essentially the same: access to music and arts, access to challenging curricula, and, at some schools, low expectations.

In high school, again, they are the same.

Are there other significant inequities that we need to address?

And how can we address these inequities? The District could certainly take a hand in class size through their budgeting practice, but in the end there's a lot of site-based control. Some of that has been pulled back, but a lot remains with the principal. The decision to offer arts and music is strictly a site-based decision, isn't it? Likewise course offerings at middle and high schools. Buildings decide for themselves how they will address the needs of their advanced learners, and it is up to principals to police how teachers set their academic expectations. So what, if anything, can be done at the District level, and what, specifically, can be done at the building level, to correct the inequities?

It isn't enough to say that there are inequities. They must be specifically identified and solutions must be put forward.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Alleged Assault at RBHS

I had read about this incident a couple of days ago and wasn't going to post on it but now a criminal investigation has been launched and the boys expelled (somewhat after the fact). Basically a girl alleges that a boy was harassing her during class (verbally and putting hands on her), that the class ended and he followed her into the hall, continuing the harassing and finally pulling her into a boys' bathroom where he assaulted her while another boy stood guard. It was reported to the school later that day by the girl and an unnamed adult. The school did not notify the police and it is unclear if they told the district. The boys were initially expelled for 3 days.

The district has clear-cut rules on criminal behavior and yet the principal did not call the police. Of course, the girl and her family could have but may have thought telling the school administration would trigger that. What is also odd is that when the boy touched her in class, why didn't she go to her teacher? After she left class and he continued to bother her, why didn't she go into the nearest classroom and tell a teacher? I'm not blaming this girl for the alleged attack but I can't understand if adults were around her why she wouldn't have gone to someone especially after it became physical. Did she feel she would not be helped or believed?

Very troubling.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Times: They Just Can't Help Themselves

Not content to wait a couple of weeks until their endorsements, the Times' editorial board has come out with yet another piece bewailing our current board. They promise "this page will parse the roles and qualifications of elected boards through a series of editorials." Oh boy.

They claim that with this Board that Raj was "just a vote or two" away from firing. Brita could weigh in but I do not believe that was ever the case. At a couple of points they might have thought about not renewing his contract but that's different from firing. I think the Board thought the time had come to move on when Phase 2 of closures and consolidations was so badly botched. But I don't think there was strife or animosity between the Board and Raj and the Times seems to make it sound like there was.

And, once again, they try to compare the Board of Regents at UW with the School Board. I'll bet they are very different in their goals and processes but it just might take some looking into.

Vouchers Win Praise by Parents, not by Kids

This article, in the NY Times last Friday, certainly does raise a lot of questions about the federally mandated voucher program in Washington, D.C.

Here's an overview in quotes from the article:

"A Republican-controlled Congress established the voucher program, for Grades K through 12, in 2004. Over the last three years it has provided scholarships of up to $7,500 annually to cover tuition, fees and transportation expenses for each of about 1,800 poor children to attend private school. About 90 percent of the participating students have been African-American, and an additional 9 percent Hispanic, according to the Congressionally mandated study.

The results were eagerly awaited, because studies of similar programs elsewhere, in cities including Cleveland, Milwaukee and Dayton, had not produced definitive conclusions about whether vouchers significantly increased the academic achievement of students who previously attended public schools."


"Students who participated in the first year of the District of Columbia’s federally financed school voucher program did not show significantly higher math or reading achievement, but their parents were satisfied anyway, viewing the private schools they attended at taxpayer expense as safer and better than public schools, according to an Education Department study released yesterday. The students themselves painted a picture different from that of their parents, though, feeling neither more satisfied nor safer than did students attending public schools."


"Parents of students using the vouchers were significantly more likely to give the school their child attended a grade of A or B than were parents of students rejected by the lottery, the study found. Joseph P. Viteritti, a professor of public policy at Hunter College, said those findings were consistent with studies of other voucher programs.
“To me,” Mr. Viteritti said, “it just means that parents are happy to have a choice.”

But Clive R. Belfield, an economics professor at the City University of New York who has studied voucher programs, noted the new report’s finding that of the 1,027 students who entered the Washington program in the fall of 2004, only 788 remained in it by the fall of 2006.

“That’s quite a bit of attrition,” Mr. Belfield said. “If parents are so satisfied, why have about 20 percent of the students left the program?”"

These are interesting questions because it almost points to a parent's ability to feel some control over their child's schooling seems to be almost as important as the child actually doing better. Maybe those parents felt so hopeless about their child's school that any change was viewed as better. But what about the student viewpoint? It seems like that would be important in creating change. If the student changed schools and still felt unsafe or felt the teaching wasn't working, that's just as big an issue as parents' concerns.

It's interesting for SPS because we do have so much choice and I think parents, for better or worse, do feel a measure of control over where their child goes to school. We're likely to hear more about this (although it's probably way down on the agenda) during the Presidential election as most Republicans want charters and vouchers. I have no doubt that the issue of charters in Washington State is likely to come back to the ballot in the next couple of years.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Leeway in Lesson Plans

This lengthy article appeared in today's Seattle Times. It's a discussion about uniform lesson plans, teaching order of subjects, etc. Many quotes from Carla Santorno and Mike Riley (Superintendent in Bellevue). Among them,

"Locally, the Bellevue School District appears to manage its lessons the most. In some subjects it has a long list of required lessons, one for nearly every day.

Other districts, to varying degrees, are standardizing instruction as well. In Seattle, for example, Chief Academic Officer Carla Santorno hopes that a U.S. government or calculus class at Ballard High eventually will use the same syllabus as one at Franklin or Roosevelt or Sealth.

The goal is to provide students with the same academic experiences, regardless of their teacher or school."

And later on,

"Locally, the Bellevue School District appears to manage its lessons the most. In some subjects it has a long list of required lessons, one for nearly every day.

Other districts, to varying degrees, are standardizing instruction as well. In Seattle, for example, Chief Academic Officer Carla Santorno hopes that a U.S. government or calculus class at Ballard High eventually will use the same syllabus as one at Franklin or Roosevelt or Sealth.

The goal is to provide students with the same academic experiences, regardless of their teacher or school."

Carla's take on it,

"When Santorno, Seattle's chief academic officer, arrived last year, she said teachers and principals told her they wanted more support. She told them that she can't provide that unless most of them are using the same books and materials. She expects some tension because teachers won't have as much freedom as they once did. She's not, however, thinking about requiring all teachers to teach the same lesson.

"I have taught in that system, and it's not fun," she says, adding, "It makes you want to sneak around and take care of the faster learners and the slower learners.""

It seems like there could be a middle ground but how to find it? Teachers, what are your thoughts? Will unified lessons help more kids find academic success faster?

What Should a High School Grad Know?

On Tuesday from 9-10 am KUOW's Weekday show will air a program about graduation requirements.

9 - 10 AM: What Should A High School Graduate Know?

"The state board of education is grappling with new high school graduation requirements. They are looking at what makes for a meaningful diploma. Among their criteria - they believe that a high school graduate should meet or exceed the standard on core subject areas; be able to think critically and logically; know how to learn continuously; and be able to apply learning in practical and work settings. But how do you turn these ideas into actions? What should students have to know to graduate? What would make the diploma a student receives more meaningful?"

They normally list their guests but didn't here; I assume they are not set yet. You can always listen to the show after it airs by going to their website at kuow.org.

Friday, June 22, 2007

School Capacity

Roy Smith brought up an interesting issue on the tail of another thread but I thought it deserved its own. What is the capacity size at any given building? Would we want schools full to capacity?

In my work on the CAC (and later on), I found that Facilities uses different capacity numbers. It's quite puzzling. There are different factors in determing capacity like teaching stations (actual classrooms), special ed rooms, a teachers' area, etc. What I saw on the CAC is that when a school was underenrolled, many schools found uses for their extra space and were loath to give it up. I get that (especially in older buildings that weren't designed to have an art room as many new buildings do have) but the extra rooms have to do more than be storage or extra room for art projects. The district doesn't help by publishing/stating different capacity numbers (depending on the issue they are speaking on). We need realistic numbers that do not change (unless a new program comes in that requires taking a teaching station).

I recall when my older son started at Eckstein about 100 extra kids were placed in the school based on parent complaints. That was about 10% more kids at the school. This placed a tremendous strain on resources and, to my amazement, the school continued to grow. Eckstein is a fine school, well-run with good academics and a great music program but many parents are turned off by (or reluctantly accept) its large size. I was told that in the 70s Eckstein had 2000 kids (similiar to the story Roy heard about how big Jane Adams was at one time). All I can say is, "Who wants a 2,000 seat middle school?"

Roosevelt was built for 1600, has 1700. Ballard is way overloaded. I was told recently that Hale will be rebuilt for 1400 (they currently have about 1150ish). Hale doesn't want to be bigger but population growth in the north and the fact that we're paying to rebuild their building to 1400 means they are likely to have little choice but to grow.

Capacity seems a little like Goldilocks; not too many, not too few, but what is just right?

Thanks Linda

Today was the final day for Linda Thomas' fun and interesting education blog at the Seattle PI. Thanks to Linda for a great forum and her charming off-the-cuff takes on life. This leaves an opening there if someone might want to continue an education blog at the PI. Anyone?

This being the last day of school (and as Linda has alerted us to in our kids' yearbooks), HAGS to all. (Have a Great Summer.)

Hey, Wait a Minute, I was #5

Well, according to this study first-borns are smarter than their sibs.

"The study of 240,000 Norwegian men in the journal Science found the IQs of firstborns were two to three points higher than those of younger siblings.

While that may not sound like much, experts said even a few IQ points can make a big difference over a lifetime and set firstborns on a trajectory for success. University of California, Berkeley, researcher Frank Sulloway, who wrote a commentary accompanying the study, said two to three IQ points could translate to an added 20 to 30 points on an SAT college-entrance exam."

and this,

"The findings suggested the mechanism behind the birth-order effect is not biological but related to social interactions within families. He surmised older children are showered with attention early in life and treated as leaders within the family. They are handed more responsibility after siblings are born and live with higher expectations from their parents.

Spacing between births also was a factor, Kristensen said. Children born less than a year apart had the greatest IQ gaps. Differences in IQs diminished when there were more than five years between the first and second child, he said."

My kids are nearly 4 years apart, both very bright but very different in their approaches to learning. I think the leadership point and attention point are probably true, though. Of course, this completely leaves out other gifts like arts ability, social skills, etc.

Great Story, Great Teacher

This article about a teacher at Issaquah High School and his experiment was great. He teaches the kids, in action, about physics AND helps them see the practical uses of the experiment (and, that you could possibly make money from it). Good for him.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ballard High Tennis Coach Fired

Ballard High School's girls' tennis coach got fired (he wasn't a teacher there). I wasn't surprised because if you had read the Seattle Weekly article on him and his team, you could see it coming. First, this one of the longest, weirdest articles I have ever read in the Weekly. I kept waiting for a point but basically, it was a New-Age coach and his team of what seemed to be whiny, less-than-competitive girls. Second, I came away thinking it was very odd but maybe this is how coaching is today. But mostly I was troubled about how the relationship between the coach and the girls came across. So I visit the Weekly website today and find out that the coach got fired. I'm not sure I believe he should have been fired. I'm not sure he did anything wrong except read somewhat inappropriate poems to the girls. A brief blurb about the firing appeared in the sports section of the Times on Wednesday.

Town Hall forum (Revisited)

I finally got around to viewing the video of the Town Hall meeting in late May with panelists discussing the School Board. I was alternately amused, amazed and annoyed. I'm going to note a couple of interesting comments and then bring it around to why it's valid to revisit it.

-Dean Wasley of UW clearly likes the idea of appointed boards. She likes that over in Bellevue things are steady and sound. She's right on that point and it's worth looking into how the relationship between Superintendent Riley and his Board works and what makes it work. I wonder if any of the SB candidates have looked into this. But then she went on to explain that if a Board member is stepping down, the member steps down BEFORE the election to allow the Board to select the someone to fill out their term (and thus giving that new person a huge "in" come election time). That's handy if you are a Board that only wants a certain type of person on your Board. Cathy Allen, a political consultant, quipped, "Sounds like Russia." I agree.

Dean Wasley also claimed that the Board has "tons" of training and I'd have to ask Brita if that was tons offered or tons that each member took upon his/herself to get. I know that Brita attended numerous Board Director meetings (state and national) to get a broad view of what is happening elsewhere but I don't that it happened for every director.

-Lynne Varner of the Times had some funny/odd things to say. She's against appointed boards but said if the Board were to go to the Legislature next year whinning about money, the legislature would probably be more likely to vote in appointed boards. Huh? Every single district in this state faces the same financial future that Seattle's does. It is a function of lack of state funding (which is being somewhat corrected by the next budget). Getting mad at any board for talking about the financial crunch and then saying they need to be appointed makes little sense.

Ms. Varner waved off the idea that the Board needs staff. She said that any Board member can ask a head of a department or the Superintendent for information. School Board policy 60.1 (partial):

"A. The Board and its members communicate with the administration of the school district through the Superintendent or the Superintendent’s designated representative and not through subordinate administrators.
B. Board members shall not request from the Superintendent the preparation of a report or compilation of material not readily available and involving significant staff time unless the Board by motion duly made and adopted shall have approved the preparation of the report of the compilation of material."

So, informally, maybe, the Board members could ask department heads but that's not Board policy. It also allows the Superintendent/CAO/COO/CFO to take as long as they want to answer questions. She also forgets that it isn't just district information/stats that are important. There is other research out there from a local/regional/state and national perspective that Board members can't necessarily do on their own .

The smartest answers on the panel came from Cathy Allen, a political consultant. She sure knows this district and the players. She got gasps from the audience when she said she believed that the new superintendent will be gone in two years or less because she is likely to be pushed out by new Board members who will say they didn't pick/hire her. I agree that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is unlikely to last more than 2 years but I don't agree with Ms. Allen's reasoning.

So I bring this back up because of discussion mostly between Dean Wasley and Lynne Varner. They seem to be under the impression that the School Board director job is an about 10-hour a week job. No kidding. Dean Wasley said that the Board of Regents works perfectly well in a shorter time period. She should know better than anyone but K-12 is not the same thing as post-secondary. The Board of Regents is appointed and largely serves at the request of the President of UW. The Superintendent serves as a hire of the School Board.

They both rolled their eyes and suggested that Board members who spend more than 10 hours a week on the job should "get a life" or " get friends". Dean Wasley even said if only the district could offer free football tickets to Husky games like UW does to the Board of Regents, you could get better people. (I thought she was kidding the first time but she said it twice.)

Okay, so let's do a rough, back-of-the-envelope estimate (and Brita help us out):
3 hours a week in committee meetings (the Board members serve on at least 2 committees each)
2 hours a week meeting constituents, answering e-mail and phone calls
2 hours a week visiting schools
2 hours a week in other meetings either within the district or outside (city meetings, etc)
1 hour a week doing reading for the job

That's 10 hours. I believe I lowballed every single one of those categories and probably didn't include some that should be there. I know people who believe SB members are on the job full-time (and have no hesitation coming up to them in the grocery store and launching into a problem). I honestly believe that any candidate running right now who said, "I would be willing to give 10 hours a week to this job" could not be elected. I went and looked at the websites of various candidates and 1 says he will work fulltime at the position and several other allude to being able to give large amounts of time to the job.

There's a difference between micromanaging the district (not part of the Board job) and doing due diligence. So I ask you, for a job that pays around $4800 a year, with multiple constituencies around an urban district with about a half-billion dollar budget, how much time should a Board member be putting in?

Neighborhood Schools: Separate but Equal?

I’m troubled by the prospect that the new assignment policy framework is to some extent a 21st Century version of “Separate but Equal.” Can we thoughtfully discuss the ways in which that might or might not be the case?

The blindness of privilege makes this issue particularly difficult to address. If you happen to live in a neighborhood with a great school that has space for you, and has plenty of human and financial resources to devote to that school, of course the “neighborhood school” concept is fantastic. However, it may be extremely difficult for you to empathize with someone who doesn’t have the same choice.

For those of you who are in a relatively privileged position, I urge you to ask yourself if you would send your child to an underperforming school with the hope that you could successfully make it work for your child. Or perhaps your child or family has needs nearby schools can’t fulfill. Would you send your child to those schools anyway? If you think you would, try reading about the Madrona School experience and ask yourself how you would handle that situation.

In short, should families who live in neighborhoods with an underperforming or inappropriate school have to bear the brunt of making the school different or better, and if not, what specifically will District/State/Federal authorities do to help them? In today’s market, moving is simply not an option for most families, and an influx of a few more neighborhood families is just not going to be enough to improve or change a school. Much help is needed, and I see very little on the horizon that convinces me that help is coming. (For example, the Southeast Initiative is limited to high school and middle schools. What about elementaries?)

Beyond the issues of equity that I’m raising, some voices have asked that alternative schools explain and fully justify their programs, based on the notion that they supposedly carry far higher costs due to transportation and assignment complexity. I have yet to see a breakdown as to how high a dollar figure we are talking about, but shouldn’t we be also asking about the extra costs arising from a move to neighborhood schools?

For example, it seems imperative that the District find out, via survey or other means, how many middle-class families currently using the choice system will leave the District if forced to attend a school that doesn’t work for them. I think rather than capture market share, the proposed framework is going to further drive families from the district, leaving less money for everyone. This is of course exactly the opposite of what Director DeBell and others are predicting, but I think they are mistaken. The only way to settle the question is with professionally gathered data. Is that data somewhere and I’m missing it?

For the families who don’t have the means or savvy to opt out of the District, what will be the long term social and economic costs of underperforming schools? I think we can all agree that that they won’t be zero. I believe that Board and new superintendent should focus on improving schools, recreating successful schools, and on savvy program placement before we start forcing families to attend schools that just happen to be nearby.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Merit Pay for Teachers

"This article makes clear that many states are considering merit pay for teachers and teachers' unions are supporting it as long as they are part of the process and it isn't just administrator picked.

ere in Minneapolis, for instance, the teachers’ union is cooperating with Minnesota’s Republican governor on a plan in which teachers in some schools work with mentors to improve their instruction and get bonuses for raising student achievement. John Roper-Batker, a science teacher here, said his first reaction was dismay when he heard his school was considering participating in the plan in 2004.

“I wanted to get involved just to make sure it wouldn’t happen,” he said.

But after learning more, Mr. Roper-Batker said, “I became a salesman for it.” He and his colleagues have voted in favor of the plan twice by large margins.

Minnesota’s $86 million teacher professionalization and merit pay initiative has spread to dozens of the state’s school districts, and it got a lift this month when teachers voted overwhelmingly to expand it in Minneapolis. A major reason it is prospering, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in an interview, is that union leaders helped develop and sell it to teachers."

KUOW's Weekday had a discussion this week about merit pay that you can listen to online (I haven't had a chance to hear it yet).

Should Washington state be thinking about this? Teachers?

Calming the Mind

I love this idea and wish we could try it here. The article describes different ways of calming children throughout the day and helping them find ways to calm themselves. (I remember this from baby books about trying to help babies learn to comfort themselves if they woke up in the night and thus being about to fall asleep on their own.)

I believe we live in a busy, go, go world that gets easily impressed on our children, from teachers trying to cover test material to parents trying to fit everything in. We have a noisy life with beeps, buzzes, sounds coming from every direction. Five minutes out of the day to calm the mind might be a good thing.

Paying for Progress

This interesting article is from the NY Times. NYC is experimenting with paying students to do well.

"Under his plan, fourth-grade students will receive up to $25 for a perfect score on each of 10 standardized tests throughout the year. Seventh-grade students will be able to earn twice as much — $50 per test, for a total of up to $500. Fourth graders will receive $5 just for taking the test, and seventh graders will get $10.

Officials expect up to 40 schools to participate this fall, with a total of 9,000 students, in the pilot phase of the program, which will be monitored by Professor Fryer. After two years, they said, they will evaluate it for possible expansion.

Principals in the system’s empowerment initiative — who have more autonomy to run their schools — can choose to join the program.

Similar, smaller programs for cash incentives to raise schoolchildren’s performance have been put in place elsewhere in the country. In Chelsea, Mass., for instance, students can receive $25 for perfect attendance. And in Dallas, some schools hand over $2 for every book a child reads."

Puts a new meaning on "pay for play".

What is and is not an alternative school?

Okay! Have at it!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Deferred elements of the new Student Assignment Plan

The New Student Assignment Plan has been sketched out. We're all pretty familiar with the features as the lines are getting inked in:

* Right-sized elementary school reference areas - matching the student population size with the school building capacity
* Default assignment to a reference area elementary school
* Guaranteed enrollment to a reference area elementary school
* Continued choice in elementary schools
* Elementary school transportation limited to clusters
* Clusters reduced in size to cut transporation distances
* Single middle school reference areas
* Middle school reference areas aligned with elementary school reference areas (feeder patterns)
* Default assignment to a reference area middle school
* Guaranteed enrollment to a reference area middle school
* Continued choice in middle schools
* Middle school transportation limited to reference area school
* High school transportation by METRO
* Continued choice in high schools

Also written, but not as darkly:

* Single high school reference areas
* High school reference areas aligned with middle school reference areas (feeder patterns)
* Default assignment to a reference area high school
* Guaranteed enrollment to a reference area high school
* Some percentage of set-aside seats for out-of-region students at each high school

There are some topics that have only been mentioned, not really discussed:

* General transporation policy for alternative schools
* Transportation service areas for specific alternative schools
* What is and is not an alternative school?
* The possibility of set-aside seats in high schools for specific programs (e.g. biotech at Ballard, Jazz Band at Garfield and Roosevelt, IB at Ingraham and Sealth)

And then there are some topics that have not even been mentioned out loud, but are definitely on the radar and causing concern:

* A rational, transparent program placement process driven by student data instead of principal politics
* The impact of program placement decisions on building capacities and reference area size
* Equitable access and distribution of Spectrum programs - real Spectrum programs
* The possible need for out-of-cluster or out-of-region transportation for Spectrum students to gather enough to form viable programs
* Equitable access and distribution of special education programs
* Equitable access and distribution of bilingual programs
* Placement and configuration of unique programs like APP, elementary and secondary BOC, the programs now at Marshall, and the programs now at Wilson-Pacific

There are almost certainly some items I forgot or didn't classify correctly. I hope people will add them.

Some at the District have hinted that they don't want to discuss some of these last things yet. They have suggested that these elements can be discussed in a second Phase. I don't see how. If the District doesn't consider the impact of program placement on capacity when right-sizing the reference area, they will end up with 580 students trying to find seats at Lafayette. In a similar vein, after right-sizing a reference area for a school, how can the District add a program to it?

I think these unmentionables need to be talked about as part of the whole design. The principles driving the design of the whole should extend into these cases as well. So let's talk about these oddly shaped pieces of the puzzle and where they fit in the big picture.

There are benefits of coming early to the discussion. If you are among the first, then you have a better chance of participating in it, positioning it, even directing it. These little vacuums represent opportunities for activism and advocacy. I don't know that the District staff will be open to suggestion on these topics, but I do know that the ideas with the best chances for acceptance are those that serve all students' interests well - not just the immediate self interests of a small group, and are consistent with the guiding principles of the whole project.

School Board candidate questionnaire...

Once again, Community & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle (www.cppsofseattle.org) is putting together a questionnaire for School Board candidates. Here is the link to the one we did last election: www.cppsofseattle.org/candidates.htm.

The goal of the questionnaire is to educate voters, so we're looking for questions that address important issues and differentiate the candidates. We'd love to get your input.

Got a question you think all candidates should answer? Let us know by leaving a comment here, or if you prefer, you can send ideas to kerry@cppsofseattle.org. Please respond by next week (6/26) since we need time to assemble it all in advance of the primary. Thanks!

School Assignment Plan Vote Tomorrow

The School Board will be voting on the revised School Assignment plan tomorrow night at the Board meeting at 6 pm at the Stanford Center.

Today on Crosscut, former Seattle School Board member Dick Lilly has an interesting article about the proposal: Seattle's contradictory school-assignment proposal.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Hall Monitor blog

Here's a link to the Partnership for Learning's blog, The Hall Monitor, that has links to many education stories.

For example, this from an article following analysis of what happens after students after they graduate in Oklahoma and Florida:

"As more states follow Oklahoma's lead, there will be more measures to choose from. Some states have already connected their education data systems to databases containing information about employment, welfare, and public safety. In addition to tracking students into college, the Florida Department of Education3 publishes, for each high school, statistics such as:
  • The percent of high school graduates working in Florida on a full-time and/or part-time basis the autumn after graduation
  • Average hourly earnings of employed graduates, as well as the percent of employed graduates with earnings meeting certain hourly wage thresholds
  • The percent of graduates working for the federal government
  • The percent of graduates enlisted in the military
  • The percent of graduates receiving food stamps and/or aid from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program
  • The percent of graduates who are incarcerated or under community supervision

Florida can also track the field in which graduates are working, creating new ways to evaluate the success of vocational education and other programs focused on the work force."

Certainly sounds like information that could be useful on many fronts, both educational and economic.

School Board Candidates

A blog reader sent me some additional contact information for the upcoming School Board races which I have listed below. I've put the districts which are at play in the primary first: District 2 and District 6. That is where I'm going to focus my research and attention first as I learn more about the candidates.

I can't imagine that candidates without a website will be competitive. But, then again, a candidate like David Blomstrom would actually do better without one.

If you have additional contact information, like websites which are not currently listed, let me know. I've posted a link to this post at the right so that people can return to this page to contact School Board candidates between now and the election.

Primary Election: Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Election Day: Tuesday, November 06, 2007


SPS District 2 North Seattle --- Primary Election

Sherry Carr
(206) 914-6790

Darlene Flynn
(206) 422-5867

Courtney Hill
(206) 288-9818

Patrick Kelley
(206) 300-0200

Lisa Stuebing
(206) 524-6788

SPS District 6 West Seattle ---- Primary Election

Zeinab M. Ahmed
(206) 265-3949

Danaher Dempsey, Jr
(360) 920-0823

Edwin B. Fruit
(206) 323-1755

Maria G. Ramirez
(206) 218-9650

Steve Sundquist
(206) 938-3129

SPS District 1 Northwest Seattle - General Election

Peter Maier
(206) 623-2800

Sally Soriano
(206) 782-8292

SPS District 3 Northeast Seattle - General Election

David Blomstrom
(206) 290-4307

Harium Martin-Morris
(206) 795-9844

Crosswalks and Kids on Metro

This question was in the Getting There section in the PI (which answers traffic questions). It has relevance to the district's move to Metro for all high schoolers (and perhaps, eventually, middle school). The part of the answer that is telling (the question is about crosswalks at Ingraham High School):

"Della, separately responding to Collier, said current city policy is for painting crosswalks around elementary schools and not near middle schools or high schools. Hirakawa says this is based on middle and high school students' better understanding of traffic dangers. Della said he'll ask about the pros and cons of adding middle and high schools and work on the issue with the council's Special Committee on Pedestrian Safety."

Well, the kids may be older and understand the dangers but I wouldn't say that makes them less likely to take chances. Dropoing an e-mail to members of the City Council on this issue might be a good idea. If the district wants this policy, then the district and city should be urged to make it as safe as possible.

Troubled Teens Find Help to Graduate

This is an important story by Jessica Blanchard of the PI in today's issue. Not many people know about Interagency or how it works. The point of schools like John Marshall and Interagency is that they are second (or third) chance places for kids in impossible situations (not just troublemaking teens). It takes a special kind of teacher to be at these schools. Their success rates, their WASL scores are not the point. The point is that they are making the effort to help kids make slow, steady progress that help them see they can be successful.

Sometimes life is measured in small everyday victories.

Peter Maier

I'm very troubled by Peter Maier's campaign for School Board.

On his web site he says that he 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.

Unfortunately, he doesn't really have any plan or, if elected, any means for fulfilling any of these promises. No supporting details appear anywhere on his web site.

How will the Board assure that every student has an opportunity to be what she or he wants to be? Not even their parents can do that. What does that even mean?

How can the Board enforce their policies when it is a well-known fact that the Board has no mechanism for doing so?

How can the Board hold anyone accountable for spending when the Board has little or no say in spending? The Board has no role in writing any of the budgets. After they are written, the budgets can all be freely changed without Board vote. The Board only votes on the maximum total expeditures for each budget, not any of the line items.

Peter Maier makes promises he cannot possibly fulfill. That troubles me. It makes me seriously question his integrity. Mr. Maier, when questioned on Linda Thomas' blog would not say how he could or would fulfill his promises - promises that were clearly outside Board authority. He just wouldn't answer direct questions.

He says that he will provide "the leadership we need", but I think we need honest leadership that communicates forthrightly with the community.

I'm sure there are a lot of people who know and admire Mr. Maier and support his candidacy. If so, see what you can do to either get him to explain how he's going to fulfill his promises or get him to make less ambitious promises. The way he's going now makes him out to be a liar and makes it appear that he has a very poor opinion of the electorate. Maybe he reckons that fooling some of the people some of the time will be enough for him to get more votes than Sally Soriano. Maybe he thinks that he has such a lock on the election that it doesn't matter what he says or does. I don't know what he thinks.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mystery Board sessions

Just took a look at the Board calendar for June and found these items for June 27th:

Public Hearing, Director District Changes
5:45pm - 6:00pm

Public Hearing, 2007/08 Budgets
6:00pm - 7:00pm

I'm wondering if the Board Director District changes are for boundaries. Seems odd, given that the assignment boundaries would still have to be redrawn. Wouldn't you want to do the assignment boundaries before the director boundaries. Brita

I'm not sure I remember a public hearing on the budgets so late in the year.

Anyway, something to put on your radar should you be interested in attending.

Dads in the Halls

This article appeared in today's Times about a program at Franklin High School to encourage fathers to check out their student's school.

I think most of us know that women tend to be more of the faces in the halls at most schools. It happens, it's our society, it's our culture and it's not a slam on dads (especially on Father's Day - shout out to all the dads!).

Parental participation (and appearance) drops off a lot in middle and high school. It's likely a combo of burn-out (parents tend to give their all in elementary school - don't let this happen to you because you will be needed on down the line), kids trying to push you away (again - completely ignore their cries because your chances of crossing paths while working at your child's middle/high school are slim to none and they will ignore you anyway) and it is sometimes less obvious about how to help.

There are lots of ways to help at these levels that (1) don't involve actually being at the school and (2) are one-shot deals. Your PTA should have a list of them online and/or give them out at the beginning of the year.

As the co-PTSA president for the next school year at Roosevelt, I'm going to ask a couple of things of parents that tie in with this article. One, make a commitment to give 2 physical hours to your child's school (not counting attending a school function). If every parent/guardian could do that, it would be amazing what could get done. Two, make a commitment for one time this year to go to your child's school during school hours and walk the halls during lunch/passing period and sit in one class (doesn't have to be your own child's). It could be an hour or two. Have you been in a middle or high school or do you just think you know what it looks like? Pop into a bathroom, the library, the gym. It will open your eyes and allow you to see what it looks like, sounds like and what is may be like for teachers. It may allow you to get a better feel for what your child's day is like.

You are likely to be shocked. Not because of mean kids or bad behavior but you will see dress and behavior that would never have been allowed when you were in school. Most kids are pretty loud but consider that they no longer have recess and the passing period/lunch are their only breaks during the day to let off steam. But you'll come away knowing your child's school in a better way than any "So how was your day?" answer ever could.

Late Start; Coming to a School Near You

This brief was in the Times today.

Renton adds planning time for teachers

"Renton students will be able to sleep in most Fridays under a measure that gives teachers and staff 90-minute planning and development periods on 30 Fridays during the school year. The School Board passed the measure Wednesday evening, despite concerns from parents who say the late arrival system will create a burden for children in child care.

Renton students now arrive late or leave early every other Tuesday, depending on their grade level. Renton says it will investigate ways to lighten the burden for parents whose children are in day care. The district is talking to nonprofit groups that could provide morning day care to schools.

"A lot of the responsibility will fall on parents to find accommodations," said Randy Matheson, spokesman for the district.

The additional days are intended to give faculty and staff more time to develop courses, receive training and align curriculum."

This is apparently across the board in grade levels. I have to wonder what parents in our district would say if this got instituted here. As it is, many of the high schools have late start days (as opposed to the district's own early release dates) as do some of the middle schools. I can't imagine this for elementary but it could be coming.

Foreign Language Instruction for Elementary Students

FYI from the district:

Seattle Public Schools, through a foreign-language assistance grant from the U.S. Department of Education, is offering four fun-filled foreign language summer camps for elementary school students beginning July 2. The summer camps will offer the following languages: Chinese, Korean, Arabic and Farsi. To register for the Chinese or Korean language camps or for more information on registration fees, contact Betty Lau at (206) 252-6211 after 1:40 p.m. To register for the Arabic or Farsi language camps, visit the Web site at www.cultural.org/wlp/ or contact Maka Janikashvili at (206) 217-9644.

Summer Language Camp
Chinese or Korean, K-4th grade
8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., July 2-13
Mercer Middle School
1600 S. Columbian Way

Summer Language Camp
Arabic, ages 6-12
9 a.m. to 3 p.m., July 2-13
Farsi, K-4th grade
8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Northgate Elementary School
11725 1st Ave. N.E.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

School District Facilities Management

Because it involves so much money, and because it has been handled so poorly in the past, any piece of news about how the school district is handling property and buildings interests me.

A recent article from the Ballard News Tribune, Tenants Have One Year to Buy School Buildings, provides details about the June 6th School Board vote in which "Five facilities, including the Crown Hill School (Small Faces Child Development Center) and Webster School (Nordic Heritage Museum), were assigned surplus status."

According to the School Board agenda, 10 people testified on this topic, including Maggie Metcalfe, Chris Jackins and Gordon MacDougall. The meeting minutes aren't up on the website yet. Anyone who testified or attended the Board meeting willing to share what you heard?

The details are spelled out on the district website in the Board agenda:
Amendment to Facilities Master Plan (Finance) – The Finance Committee recommends approval of this item which would change the designation of 19 district properties to inventory (14) or surplus (5).

Friday, June 15, 2007

Contentious School Principal Assignments

The school principal hiring decisions at Aki Kurose and the African American Academy have incensed many parents. Parents left fuming at South End principal choices (Seattle Times)

I have conflicted feelings about this story. On the one hand, inauthentic public/parental involvement really incenses me, so I completely sympathize with the Aki Kurose parent, Sharon Dodson's statement: "Basically it was a waste of our time for you to tell us that you want our input, and then you turn around and just slap us in the face."

But I also appreciate Carla Santorno's statement that "We tried to divorce ourselves from, you know, the political piece, and make a decision that serves students and perhaps not all the adults." What's impossible to know from the outside and in advance of these new principals beginning their work, is whether or not these were really good decisions that serve students well.

So, for me, because Seattle Public Schools doesn't have a good track record in hiring and assigning quality principals, I find it difficult to trust that these decisions are good ones. But I hope they are. Ineffective school leadership can completely sink schools.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

School Assignment Plan discussion on KUOW Tomorrow

Tomorrow on KUOW's Weekday at 9 am, Cheryl Chow and Michael DeBell will be talking with Marcie Sillman about the proposed changes to the school assignment plan.

Call (206) 543-5869, (800) 289-5869, or e-mail weekday@kuow.org to join in the discussion.

If you miss the broadcast in the morning, you can listen to it later by visiting the Weekday page on the web.

Advanced Learning Issues

There is some weird stuff going on in Advanced Learning.

The programs are without a manager and have been for a couple months now. Aside from the management questions about who is giving the programs direction and supervision, how will the District account for the state grant money that is supposed to be spent on the program Manager's salary? The District has been very slack for years about accounting for this grant and how it is spent. I know that some of it supposedly goes to pay for a part of the program manager's salary, but there is no program manager, so how is that money being spent? This is categorical funding from the state; the District is prohibited from spending it on anything else. Despite repeated requests all year, the APP Advisory Committee has never seen a department budget. No one outside the District staff - including the Board - has any idea how the District is spending the grant.

From a supervisory perspective, the lack of a program manager isn't such a dire issue because the department has no workplan this year. Of course, that in itself is an issue.

We were anticipating a review of Advanced Learning programs this month, but that review has since been diminished to just APP. While that's news to the community, it is not news to the person contracted to conduct the review. She says that the review was always APP-only right from the start. So why did District staff tell the Board and the community that the review would cover all Advanced Learning programs while contracting for APP-only? Why are they now presenting the scope of the review as a change when that was the intended scope all along? Why do a review of APP only when it is part of a continuum of services?

There may not be much of a review anyway since the reviewer wants to interview teachers, students, and families next week, but no arrangements have been made to meet with any of them. It is unlikely that the teachers and students can be made available at this time of year on short notice. No members of the community have been contacted yet and the District has no means for contacting them except through the mail. The District does not maintain an email roster for any of the programs and, in fact, doesn't even know which or how many students are participating in ALOs. Will the reviewer receive data and input from central district staff only?

I continue to be troubled and puzzled by the strange "delay" of the decision to split middle school APP between Washington and Hamilton. The decision wasn't rescinded, it wasn't withdrawn, it wasn't changed, it was "delayed". I have no idea what that means. It appears to mean that the District staff intends to bring it back later without changes. If that's the case, then won't the Student Learning Committee's review of the decision pick up where it left off? The term of office of all three SLC members, Directors Butler-Wall, Flynn, and Soriano, expire this year. Will the review resume next year with three new Board members who were not present for the work done previously? Will the review have to start all over again from the begining? The decision was not doing well in the review. Is this an effort to start over with a new, friendlier, less informed committee?

The statement announcing the decision's delay included a reference to providing ample time to engage the community, but there has been no community engagement on this or any other topic since that announcement.

Communication with the APP Advisory Committee has been severed. In the absence of a program manager for Advanced Learning, no one from the District staff has responded to messages about the review, about the reconfiguration of APP, or about any other topic. Not that anyone was all that responsive before, but communication has dropped to flat bottom.

It is unclear to whom the APP Advisory Committee will report. The committee's annual report is due on June 30, but the new Superintendent takes office just nine days later. Which Superintendent will be bound by District Policy to respond to the report? Mr. Manhas, because he appointed the committee and was Superintendent when the report was presented, or Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, because she will be the Superintendent when the recommendations are implemented? Can Dr. Goodloe-Johnson be obligated to respond to the report if she didn't appoint the committee and wasn't the recipient of the report? How is that going to work?

All in all, this is all just weird. There may well be perfectly acceptable and legitimate answers to each of these concerns, but none of them are being addressed. Suspicion grows in the absence of information. Given the District's history of bad faith with this community, suspicion is warranted.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Radio Report/Interview

This story on School Board candidates aired on KIRO 710AM News on Friday.

The link appears on their podcast page


Friday, June 08, 2007

Candidate Filing has Closed

This is the FINAL list

Director District No. 1
The candidates for this race will not appear on the Primary ballot.
These candidates will move directly onto the General Election ballot

Sally Soriano
14051 1ST AVE NW
(206) 782-8292

Peter Maier
(206) 623-2800

Director District No. 2

Patrick Kelley
(206) 300-0200

Darlene Flynn
706 N 87TH ST

Lisa C. Stuebing
PO BOX 31258
(206) 524-6788

Sherry Carr
PO BOX 30696
(206) 914-6790

Courtney Hill
813 N 44TH ST A
(206) 288-9818

Director District No. 3
The candidates for this race will not appear on the Primary ballot.
These candidates will move directly onto the General Election ballot

David Blomstrom
PO BOX 95465
(206) 290-4307

Harium Martin-Morris
PO BOX 51052
(206) 795-9844

Director District No. 6

Maria G. Ramirez
8838 24TH AVE SW
(206) 218-9650

Zeinab M. Ahmed
9240 14TH AVE SW
(206) 265-3949

Edwin B. Fruit
4431 37TH AVE SW 36
(206) 323-1755

Steve Sundquist
7211 36TH AVE SW
(206) 938-3129

Danaher M. Dempsey Jr.
6726 48TH AVE SW
(360) 920-0823

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Darlene Flynn is Running for Re-election

This article from the PI this morning. There are now 4 candidates for the District 2 position.

Darlene is either incredibly tone-deaf or smart like a fox. Tone-deaf because as many here have stated, she virtually never returns phone calls or e-mails and doesn't have community meetings. I find Darlene bright and passionate but I have also seen (again, as others have noted) her sneer at staff in public meetings or break into tears. It doesn't create a lot of good will or faith towards her.

But she could be smart like a fox because now she is in a 4-way race for the primary vote and she's the sitting incumbent. She may believe that she'll come out ahead in the voting because of name recognization. The problem for her is that at least 2 of the candidates are bright and qualified (Lisa Stuebing and Sherry Carr - I don't know anything about David Kelley) and she may just get shut out in the primary.

But it should make for some good forums.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

West Seattle HS Parents Take On 4-Period Day

I had heard about this issue from a West Seattle parent (who had contacted me about Roosevelt's late-start days which West Seattle, Franklin, Roosevelt and Hale were having under a DOE grant that ended this year).

This week's West Seattle Herald features a story and an editorial about this issue. The editorial argues for changing from a 4 to a 6 period day which is what most high schools have in SPS.

What is striking is how differently the parents and the district see the issue. One point that should be closely watched is what the Board's charge to the Steering Committee was versus a new "clarification" letter that Carla Santorno sent them. You cannot change, midstream, a basic charge and, if what the parents say is true based on what they were given by the Board and by Carla, this needs some clarification from the Board.

It is true that there is a certain number of seat hours a student has to have in order to get their high school credits. WSHS has been getting a waiver for this and it bothers the parents that their children are in class less time than other high school students.

Here's a very interesting point in the story:

"Comparing West Seattle's 2006 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning scores with other high schools in the district, Lorensen concluded West Seattle pass rates for all three subjects were the lowest in the district when adjusted for poverty.

But staff and district officials contend that West Seattle is doing well with the four-period day. It's among the top three high schools in the district in terms of improving state test scores in the past five years, based on a district review last year.

The district's analysis looked at reading and math scores, while the parents' survey studied results for all three core subjects. But one major difference is that the district's analysis was based on multiple factors, including socioeconomic aspects, while the parent's study focused on low-income students, said Bernatek."

The district used only two WASL scores to say that WSHS was in the top 3 high schools in the district in improvement over the last five years. The parents say if you throw in all three and adjust for poverty, WSHS is more towards the bottom. And, in using poverty, the parents used free/reduced lunch numbers while the district used multiple socioeconomic factors. And, to this end, they have wildly differing opinions on the scores.

Why not just use free/reduced lunch? I haven't seen many other measures used and I have to wonder why they did in this case. Charlie, have you seen this before?

This was sad to read,

"But one parent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said some teachers do disapprove of the block schedule but are afraid of being ostracized by co-workers. Parents also worry that teachers might treat their children differently if their names were linked to opposing the schedule. "We are very hesitant to give our names and speak out," said one parent. "But parents are becoming more frustrated and finally just saying, 'what the heck, we've got to put our face out there.'""

Parents and teachers should not be afraid to speak out for fear of consequences. The editorial makes it clear that parents should be part of these discussions and that their voices should count. I have mentioned before my concern over the late-start days at Roosevelt and the inability to be able to get a discussion with teachers/administrators over how many there will be and what is being done with the time. Just as an example, that issue affects parents' time and so of course parents should have the right to be involved in discussions about their lives and schedules.

The West Seattle parents also have a right to expect the district to be a buffer and mediator in this issue and not try to hold them at arm's length.

Lynne Varner's Opinion Piece on TAF

Today's Times also had an opinion piece by Lynne Varner about TAF. She had attended a 10th anniversary breakfast for TAF which Carla Santorno attended. Ms. Varner talked about the irony of TAF's successes and yet it is making few in-roads with the district. Maybe Dr. Goodloe-Johnson will want to take this on in order to help a school (like AAA) that is struggling and/or the new Board will write a policy about public/private partnerships that will kick-start some of these efforts. They will, of course, need to keep in mind that we want to keep the public in public schools but be willing to work with those with new ideas.

New Student Assignment Plan Process is Good

Congratuations to Seattle Public Schools, and the Board in particular, for addressing Student Assignment. The District is making a clear and rational effort to match the use of facilities with the demand for facilities. This is a truly wonderful thing and the Board and the District staff are to be congratulated and thanked for making this effort.

The work that Tracy Libros has been doing has been both very important and very good. She has genuinely invited the public to participate in the conversation, and the public input is clearly reflected in the framework document. The data that she and her colleagues have generated is meaningful to the process and she has been very open about sharing it.

The right-sizing of the elementary school reference areas is long overdue and very welcome. It has been goofy to tell 550 students that a 300 student building is their neighborhood reference school. We must all be very pleased that these mismatches will be fixed. People should have confidence that they can enroll their child at the school that they are told is their reference area school. Otherwise, the family is left without a reference school for all practical purposes.

I must say that I like the idea of elementary school reference area clusters matching up with middle school reference areas. I like the idea that the majority of a fifth grade class will proceed as a cohort to the same middle school.

These ideas have a strong appeal to me.

The District will run up against some physical constraints. They say that they have enough seats in the north end high schools for all of the north end high school students, but I'm not sure about that. Even if they do, it will be a tight fit.

I recommend that the District relocate Summit K-12 to the Lincoln building and site a comprehensive high school there as well. This will bring a number of benefits. It will give Summit K-12, an all-city draw alternative school the central location it needs. It will also allow the Summit high school students access to a broader variety of classes than their small program could offer - if they choose to share classes with the new high school. It will also add about 800 new high school seats in the north end to accomodate all of the students who will return to the public school system once Queen Anne and Magnolia have a predictable nearby high school assignment. Although Lincoln will be lost as an interim site, the District will be able to use Jane Addams or Wilson Pacific as their northend interim site.

I think that the Southeast Initiative is a good and necessary idea, but I would extend it to Mercer and Cleveland and not include the AAA. The AAA is an alternative school. No one gets a mandatory assignment there, so it doesn't belong in the Southeast Initiative. I'm not saying that the AAA shouldn't get some kind of District intervention - just not this one. The Southeast Initiative should be about assuring that students assigned to schools have equitable access to advanced programs at their manadatory assignment.

There will be some capacity issues in the middle and high schools in the southeast, so the District may need press the Rainier View property back into service. It is a big plot and they could build a middle school or maybe even a 6-12 (ala Denny/Sealth) on that land.

This is great work, work that needed to be tackled, and the Board and the District staff appear to be following a good process and getting good results.

NCLB Aiding Test Scores?

This may be true according to an article in today's Times. It says that, according to test results, the achievement gap may be narrowing and student achievement is rising. From the article,

"Conclusions were drawn from states that administered comparable tests for at least three years. Gaps in the data meant that not all states were included in evaluations of certain subjects and grade levels. The study found that gains tended to be larger in math than in reading and larger at the elementary level than in middle and high school."

Comparable tests? There's 50 different tests so I'd like to know if some states mimic each other and so can be called comparable tests. Also, the last sentence reenforces what we see in the WASL results, namely, rising scores in reading and writing at the elementary levels.

Again from the article:

"The study also found that 14 of 38 states with sufficient data showed shrinking gaps in reading scores between black and white students and that there was no evidence of a widening achievement gap in that subject in other states. The researchers cautioned that the gaps remain enormous, with black students scoring as many as 30 percentage points, on average, behind white students in some states. The analysis also found that test-score gains accelerated after enactment of No Child Left Behind in nine of the 13 states with sufficient data.

Some scholars criticized the report's methodology. Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said it made little sense to draw conclusions when so few states have adequate data. He also said the researchers overstated small gains and did not adequately address states that he said have been dumbing down standards."

I think is is troubling that there are only 14 states with sufficient data to compare. I also think that the issue of how closely tests match up both in how they are given and scored as well as what material is covered needs to be addressed before anyone pops the champagne corks. There may be forward progress but it's just not enough data to say it's working.

Candidate Forums

The 34th District Democrats will be hosting a candidate's forum on Wednesday, June 13 at 7:00 at The Hall at Fauntleroy, 9131 California Avenue SW (across from the YMCA)

Any others? These events may be our only chances to get real answers to real questions from a number of the candidates.

Questions to ask School Board candidates:

In specific and concrete terms, what action do you want to take as a School Board Director?

What action will you take as a School Board Director to support academic achievement for every student in every school?

What action will you take as a School Board Director to close the academic achievement gap?

What action will you take as a School Board Director to make the District more responsive to the community?

What action will you take as a School Board Director to assure equitable access to quality programs?

What action will you take as a School Board Director to improve the institutional culture at Seattle Public Schools?

There is a lot of talk about accountability. How, as a School Board Director, will you provide accountability?

What questions do you want to ask Board candidates?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Web site for Steve Sundquist

Here is the candidate web site for Steve Sundquist

Like most everyone else, the web site does not describe anything specific that Mr. Sundquist intends to do or change as a member of the Board.

It says that he is running "to bring strategic focus, a strong academic program for all schools, team play, and long-term fiscal health and accountability to the District."

He gives no indication of how he hopes to do any of those things.

How will he, as a Board member, bring a strategic focus to the District? Isn't that the Superintendent's job? What is a "strategic focus"? It sounds like an oxymoron. Strategy indicates something broad and global; focus indicates something narrow and detailed. Is he saying that the District is missing the forest for the trees and needs to focus on the forest? What is he saying?

How will he, as a Board member, take a role in building a strong academic program at High Point? Isn't that the job of the Principal and teachers? What does he think the Ed Director does for a living? What makes him think that previous Board members had that authority and didn't use it?

How will he, as a Board member, encourage team play? I'm really at a loss for the meaning of this purpose.

I know what long-term fiscal health is, but isn't that more in the hands of the State Legislature than the School Board? The Board does not write the Operations budget or vote on any of the line items in it. They only vote to approve the total expenditures. So how, as a Board member, will he secure the District's long term financial health? What makes him think that the current Board doesn't want to do that?

The one thing that he might be able to do as a Board member is bring some accountability, but I'd like to hear him say how he will do that.

Like a number of others, he promotes his "leadership" ability and management skills. School Board Director is NOT a leadership or management position. If he wants to be the leader or manager of Seattle Public Schools he should have applied for the Superintendent job.

I'm not sure he really understands what it's like being a School Board Director. The job is primarily oversight, not leadership. He can't order the staff to do ANYTHING. The staff won't consult the Board for anything that doesn't absolutely legally require Board approval. The Board does not take a role in the actual management of the District in any way. Management skills are not what a Board member needs! The Board members do not really lead the District - no one on the staff is looking to them for leadership. Leadership skills are not what a Board member needs.

I'm not trying to tear down Mr. Sundquist. He is not unique. His statements are not much different from those by Mr. Maier or a number of other current and past School Board candidates. I'm just really tired of this style of substanceless campaigning. It's all about "I'm a good person who has been successful in a number of other completely unrelated endeavors, so vote for me. I strongly support motherhood, the flag, baseball and apple pie."

Candidate Updates From Linda Thomas Blog

Here are the Seattle School Board candidates who filed for office Monday, June 4th:

Director District No. 1

Peter Maier

Director District No. 2

Patrick Kelley

Lisa Stuebing

Director District No. 3

No candidates have filed for this position as of the last update. :(

Director District No. 6

Steve Sundquist

Danaher M. Dempsey Jr.

I'm not sure who Mr. Kelley is; anybody? You can Google his name but it's pretty common so I can't be sure. Mr. Dempsey is a math teacher at West Seattle high School and is on the state Board of Education math advisory panel. Good for both of them for stepping up. Sally Soriano, Sherry Carr and Harium Martin-Morris have yet to file although they have announced that they are running.

Linda is generously offering each candidate a day at her blog to post information about themselves. Lisa Stuebing was first up yesterday and Sherry Carr is there today. I thought Lisa was clear in her focus and she has been one of the few people talking about the graduation rate in SPS. She offered this draft document from her website:

"In 2005, my organization, Budget Logic, drafted an 8-Point position paper outlining a sensible and sustainable financial plan for Seattle Public Schools."

I read it and posted at the blog that while it makes some good points there isn't an explanation of how to pay for some things (like overseeing evening and weekend rentals of school buildings), there's a factual error (it talks about the lease for Queen Anne High which is no longer district property) and seems to be poorly written with spelling, grammar and style errors. I posted that I was surprised, even for a draft document, that it would not have been edited. Lisa posted back that it was a 2-year old draft document and hasn't been rewritten. Odd for a candidate to put out a document that lays out a plan for the district and yet contains many errors.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Framework for Revised Student Assignment Plan

On Wednesday evening the Board willintroduce a motion to approve the Framework for a Revised Student Assignment Plan.

This is an interesting document.

Here are a couple of intriguing points in it:

Elementary school reference areas will be re-drawn to align with student population residing in each area and the building capacity.
What number will they use for student population? The current public school population or the schoolage children population? What building capacity number will they use? There are a number of building capacity numbers for every school. None of them appear reliable or credible. Let's see these numbers before they act on them.

How will school programs such as bilingual, special education and Spectrum be treated? Will each school be expected to provide these services for the students living in their reference area or will the District reserve seats for these programs that draw students from several reference areas? It isn't addressed, but it is a big deal. If Lafayette reserves five classrooms for Spectrum and two classrooms for self-contained Special Education, that will reduce the school's reference area dramatically. Will the District also reserve five classrooms for Spectrum at High Point? And if the District shrinks the clusters and creates more of them, will the District have to create a Spectrum program for each new cluster? How will that impact the reference areas and how will that impact Spectrum if the cohorts are splintered between dozens of schools?

Oddly, the Student Assignment framework makes no mention of any programs.

The District will review course offerings at comprehensive middle schools to determine where these might need to be supplemented to provide children in all parts of the city equitable access to quality programs.
What does this mean? What quality programs is this a reference to? Will every comprehensive middle school offer Spectrum? All but Meany and Madison already do (officially). Will the District provide transportation to bring together a critical mass of students? Will the District reserve seats at the middle schools for students enrolled in these quality programs?

Each comprehensive middle school would have a base attendance area consistent with their elementary cluster. What will Meany be like when it is suddenly the default comprehensive middle school for the students from Montlake (236), McGilvra (257) and Stevens (308) along with TT Minor (234)? How will TT Minor's population change when families know where they will go to middle school and with whom?

We know that the District doesn't have adequate middle school capacity in the Southeast, so how will they provide every student in the southeast with a middle school assignment?

There is no mention of a tiebreaker for programs.

The Southeast Initiative
Just one question: how did the African American Academy get to be part of the southeast initiative? This is not a neighborhood school, but an alternative school. How did it get on this list in this context. The AAA is not an element of the problem that the Southeast initiative is supposed to solve: people compelled to attend schools with limited academic opportunities. No one is compelled to attend the AAA.

Candidate Filing this week

Candidate filing opens today and closes on Friday, June 8.

Anyone wishing to run for School Board needs to file this week.

There are four Board seats up for election this year:

District I, North Seattle. This seat is now held by Sally Soriano. She has announced that she will be seeking re-election. There is one other announced candidate for this seat, Peter Maier.

District II, North Seattle. This seat is now held by Darlene Flynn. She has yet to announce whether she will be seeking re-election. The announced candidates for this seat include Sherry Carr and Lisa Stuebing.

District III, North Seattle. This seat is now held by Brita Butler-Wall. She has announced that she will not be seeking re-election. The only announced candidate for this seat is Harium Martin-Morris.

District VI, West Seattle. This seat is now held by Irene Stewart. She has announced that she will not be seeking re-election. The only announced candidate for this seat is Steve Sundquist.

I am deeply concerned that at least two of these elections has only one candidate and the other two elections may have only two candidates. The candidates in the one horse races have not put forward any indication of how they would act on the Board. This is EXTREMELY dangerous.

I cannot stress this enough: These are anyone's races. Any person could step forward this week, present a clear Vision and a concrete action plan, and be on the Board in the new year. This is particularly true in District III and District VI.

I strongly encourage people to get into the race. It's free, it's fun, it's the greatest civics lesson of your life. As a candidate you will get a perspective on modern American democracy that you cannot get any other way. Stop thinking "Somebody ought to do this" and remember that YOU are Somebody.

Don't worry about winning. There are lots of reasons to run that have nothing to do with winning.

Don't worry about serving. You'll find a way. It's supposed to be a volunteer gig, not a full-time job. There have been a number of successful Board members with full-time jobs.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Interesting Ideas for Middle School

Yet another good profile in the NY Times about a middle school. It is a small school (about 400) and scores in the top 10% in their state scores. What's innovative or different about them:

-extra set of books so kids have one set at home and one at school (it does make a difference but I don't know how they manage the costs)
-smartboards instead of blackboards. I support this in middle and high school. In my husband's class at UW, they have some prototypes of handsets that are connected to the smartboard and so the prof can ask for answers to a question (anonymously submitted) and see where students are. Are they understanding the problem? Are there similiar errors? Many of the students have said they are more likely to give an answer if it is done anonymously than if they have to raise their hand and be wrong in front of others. This might be one more thing coming in the use of smartboards

Their most basic idea; motivational sayings. Sixteen of them to be exact that are supposed to bewhy successful people are successful. It sounds so hokey but apparently, it is a culture at the school. They also only hire teachers who want to be teaching middle schoolers.

Here's a link to one of the programs mentioned in the article, Tribe Learning Communities. Also, just to be perverse, a link to my favorite (joke) de-motivational posters. My favorite:

Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now.

Shhh, Please...We're Graduating

This is a tough subject for an article (but I think this district went way over the top). You'll all get there someday (if you haven't already). My son's graduation was fairly dignified, just clapping and yays. I can't imagine someone bringing an air horn. My sister told me her daughter's college graduation was marred when some people behind her screamed so loudly it frightened her because she thought something was wrong. It's hard because it is a once in a lifetime event and you feel very proud of your child but one person's celebration is another person's annoyance (been to a movie lately?).

Schools Deep-Pocketed Partners

This utterly fascinating article from the NY Times covers many issues in private giving. I almost don't know where to start.

I'll just say that I always wished the Alliance for Education had turned out differently. I thought it was either going to be a fundraising arm for the district or something like what is described in this article, a foundation to oversee giving. I'm not sure I fully understand (despite having read the Alliance's website) how they pick their focus and much the district is involved. Maybe I can get an interview with their new leader (I'm not a journalist, of course, but as an involved parent and blogger maybe he might want to spread the word of what the Alliance's focus and goals are).