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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

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.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is the budget public record?

Charlie Mas said...

The budget, as presented by the Superintendent to the Board, is a public document. It is not, however, updated to reflect actual expenditures. So the budget could show anything, but that doesn't mean that the money was spent that way.

Anonymous said...

we went round and round about advanced learning last week - but ... I'm too busy to worry about sun.

I wonder if the lack of data and visibility is due to ...

the population served by advanced learning is an affluent subset of the city's children, and what is going to hit the fan when / if those demographics are public?

Some of us have tutored or taught in some of these programs, and, ummm... the kids in the programs appear to represent the diversity of the affluent better than the diversity of the city ;) ! Advanced learners and gifted kids come from mainly affluent families ... ?

I'm pretty sure that it was about 3 years ago - spring / summer of 2004 - that the Seattle Times had a piece about Garfield, and how, in my words, Garfield was 2 schools, and guess what the color breakdown between those 2 schools was like? guess who was going to the ivys and 1st tier of higher ed, and guess who wasn't graduating?

Your questions in this diary are good,

are the answers being hidden / evaded / kicked around because the REAL color problem is green ?

are the answers being hidden / evaded / kicked around because the standard solution is blue ribbon panels, instead of actually figuring how much i$ needed to fix the problem of inadequate / insufficient opportunity for the rainbows of skills and interests?

anon on tues.

Charlie Mas said...

There is no doubt that the demographics of the Advanced Learning programs are distinctly different from the demographics of the District as a whole.

We can go around and around about why that may be and whether or not the District can do anything about it. There are a lot of reasons for the discrepency that have nothing to do with racism or classism. I have never heard of anyone ever trying to quantify the contribution of any reason to the total effect. In the absence of data - real data - it is pointless to repeat that discussion.

If, however, as anonymous on tues suggests, the District thinks that it is okay to treat the Advanced Learning community poorly because it isn't the population of underperforming minority students living in poverty that they want to serve, that's just wrong.

Charlie Mas said...

Sorry - that was ambiguous.

I don't mean that anonymous on tuesday was just wrong, but that treating students differently based on race or class is wrong.

Anonymous said...

The demographics of Advanced Learning may be different from the demographics of the district but they better reflect the demographics of the city as a whole (at least the Spectrum classes with which we are most familiar do), and I would venture to say that may be telling -- perhaps AL is the one area the district does a decent job with? (relatively speaking)

Anonymous said...

The demographics of advanced learning is different from the demographics of the district. It is a fact that affluent children will do better in school, on test scores, etc. They get more. They get highly educated parents, tutoring, extra curricular activities such as language, music lessons etc. Of course they will do better in school. So, of course the demographics of the advanced learning community is going to be a higher percent affluent. It's not racism, for all those of you who are about to charge the AL community with being racist. It's not to say lower income students are not as smart, bright etc. They just don't have the opportunities in a lot of cases to be exposed to what the affluent kids are. No parents to do homework with them, or even check to see if their homeword was done at all. No tutors, no spanish classes, no piano lesons, no trips to Egypt for the summer. They are at a huge disadvantage,and thus do not place in to APP as often as affluent.

Anonymous said...

Going to Egypt for the summer has nothing to do with giftedness-it is inborn. My son could read at one and do simple math. It is an oddity; those of us who have both truly-gifted children and non-gifted children know this. Those who have the means-and drive--to get their kid into a free highly-capable program are the ones with money. Giftedness does not discriminate; only advance learning identification and retention procedures do.

Charlie Mas said...

Please describe in greater detail how advance learning identification and retention procedures are discriminatory and how they can be made less discriminatory.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you are right poster. Gifteness does just happen, it is not something you can expose your kids too.

But gifted kids are not what make up the bulk of the APP program. Kids with connected, hard-working parents with high expectations make up most of APP.

Yes, Seattle does not want "gifted children" they want highly-capable (meaning children who have the means and support to fit into the program) children.

Are we in danger of missing and failing the next Albert Einstein? Why, of course we are!!! These program-identified children are very un-odd, un-different, and come from the same cookie-cutter.

Will they find the answers to the next century's burning questions? Hmmm...that is questionable...

Jet City mom said...

I agree that the district lacks continuity & accountability when addressing concerns of highly capable students-

However in my experience that could also be applied to about any "cohort" of students in teh district, special ed, bilingual, FRL, and even your BWRKs ( bright well rounded kids).

Special education in particular has had great difficulty getting concerns addressed which are regulated by federal laws.

However they share some concerns and if students were looked at individually, I expect that some students would fall into both the special education and highly capable category, but I do also agree that from what I have seen, the bulk of students in highly capable, are not necessarily highly gifted as especially my older daughter is - (with an IQ of 160 + despite learning disabilties), but have backgrounds where education is valued and a focus of daily family life.

Parents who are able to supplement their child's classwork with academics and early participation in extracurriculars like outside music lessons have students that are much more successful in school, especially compared to students who don't have that support at home.

Since the district doesn't have a cohesive plan to address learning difficulties as shown by the past decade of WASL scores and the "surprise" that students who didn't pass WASL in 4th grade, didn't pass it in 10th-
the achievements of the groups who have a lot of parental support, including money for tutors if needed, and the accomplishments of the students that don't, get more pronounced with each passing grade.

I don't know how to get the district to be any more accountable to the highly capable group- are there any districts where districts are more responsive to student and community concerns?

Where are they and how is their structure different?

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm personally really tired of hearing the old chestnut about kids making it into accelerated programs because their parents push them. Without going into boring personal details, for our family, nothing could be further from the truth. Never pushed him, never wanted to push him. No highly educated parents, no extracurricular lessons, no tutoring. He is who and what he is probably in spite of us. We just try to stay out of his way so we don't hold him back!!!!

Anonymous said...

10:40 am. I doubt they are saying there are NO gifted kids in the APP programs, but I was a teacher at APP and a couple other schools. There are gifted kids in both places, but most of the kids who I thought were very highly-gifted also were unusual and had some learning issues and socialization issues. When I left APP I was seeing less of these kids and more well-rounded but not highly gifted kids.

Jet City mom said...

Pushing is not the same as making opportunities available and by recognizing and encouraging interests.

I don't think anyone has criticized parents who are trying to find the best opportunities for their kids, thats what good parents do.

Students who have attended schools with class sizes say of 35, may have found that asking questions and doing anything besides listening quietly and staying in their seat is frowned upon and may even get them sent to the principals office for being disruptive.

Some communities students may be labeled as "behaviorally challenged", while in another school they might be seen as academically talented.

That is exciting when a child has so much motivation that they don't need support or encouragement from adults to pursue their own interests.

However, that is fairly unusual, and I haven't seen anything that indicates that the students enrolled in Spectrum or even APP consistently fall into that extremely motivated category- but show me something that indicates that they are, Id love to see it.

( and why is it that still so few of the people who read this blog use a screen name?- all the anonymouses get confusing & it is pretty easy to make statements when you know there is no way anyone can call you on it?)

Anonymous said...

I have a small network of three parents who all have out-there, highly-gifted kids. I would love to tell you that they are highly motivated but the truth is the three of us all found our kids hated being at school and hated school work.
They are all different, one went to APP, one to a school that cost more than my mortgage, and one went to his neighborhood school.
Our kids are motivated to do what they want, not what we parents or the school wants them to do.

They all like to read but what they read is also very different.

Other than that they are very different and not highly-motivated but have exceptional gifts and are fast learners in the areas where they have an interest.

As toddlers and pre-schoolers they all were very advanced and could recognize letters and mathematical concepts before one, one could play chess and beat adults, another could put 100 piece jigsaw puzzles together but now as young high school students they don't seem to care that they are gifted and don't seem as motivated as some bright kids I know-including younger non-gifted siblings.

This is puzzling to me???

Anonymous said...

In defense of the district when it comes to low income and minority children in the APP program, I will tell you that we are a black family, and I received a letter from the district for three years in a row telling me that my sons standardized test scores were high, and they suggested testing for the APP program. The gave me the test date and application.

The district is recruiting inority children into APP. They don't do this (as far as I understand) for white students.

Where is the responsibility of the parents? Should the district hold their hands? What more can they do? They identify gifted minority children, make a recruiting effort and put the application in the hands of the parent.

I am so tired of shifting the blame all the time. Parents need to take responsibility. If they don't take the initiative to follow through and get their child into the program there is not much more you, me or the district can do.

Charlie Mas said...

First the good news.

The District has hired a new Manager of Advanced Learning and it is Bob Vaughn.

Second, in response to items posted here, it has been both my experience and my observation that highly capable and highly motivated do not always go together. It has been both my experience and my observation that they become separated when highly capable students, who start out motivated, become de-motivated by a school system that fails to challenge them. When the reward for finishing your work quickly is that you get to sit quietly in your seat and do nothing, when you are scolded or otherwise discouraged from raising your hand in class, when the pace of the class is so slow that it drives you mad, you become de-motivated.

This is not to say that some very bright students aren't just bone lazy; they can be just like anyone else. The point is that lack of challenge does them real harm for life.

Third. The District works very hard to encourage minority students to test for Spectrum and APP eligibility. Not enough minority families accept the offer. I'm not sure why, but these people can speak for themselves.

The one reason I have heard is that they don't want their child to be one of very few children of their race in those programs. This is, of course, a self-perpetuating problem in need of some pioneers.

There are a number of schools in predominantly minority and low-income neighborhoods where the school administration and staff actively discourage application for these programs. They don't want their high achieving students to leave the school.

In addition, private schools recruit heavily from among that population. If you have a bright African-American or Latino child, a great way to get a scholarship offer to the best private schools in Seattle would be to have that child found eligible for Spectrum or APP. Most of the students who go through the Rainier Scholars program are placed at private schools, not in an Advanced Learning programs at SPS.

Of course, these factors make it difficult for the District programs to recruit and retain minority students, compounding the disproportionate demographics in these programs.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous at 10:08-

I am just curious. You say that you got the letter 3 years in a row. Does this mean you opted not to do the test? If so, do you mind sharing why?

Anonymous said...

We took the APP placement test the first year, and though our child scored high, he did not score high enough to get in to the APP program. The next two years we opted not to test him, as he was being challenged appropriately at his elem school, and was very happy there. My point was simply that the district made a very sincere attemp at recruiting our son. So did the Rainier Scholors.

Jet City mom said...

I don't know if I could find this out on the website- but I thought it might be faster this way-

( so that is good news that Bob Vaughn is coming back- I htought he was at the UW)

Is there a protocol for gifted education that they follow in the district?

Are the teachers who have these students required to have special certification or higher study in gifted education?

I know very few states have mandated programs, with funding from teh state- and I assume the gifted groups in wa, have been working to get increased access- how is that going and who are most receptive legislators?

Charlie Mas said...

class of 75 asks:

"Is there a protocol for gifted education that they follow in the district?"

Could you clarify the question? What do you mean by "protocol"?



"Are the teachers who have these students required to have special certification or higher study in gifted education?"

Washington state does not offer a gifted education endorsement on the teaching certificate, so Seattle Public Schools does not require any special certification. APP and Spectrum teachers are expected to pursue continuing education in gifted ed, but, in the absence of the endorsement there is little demand for such classes and therefore few - if any - classes available at universities around here. The District tries to provide professional development for APP and Spectrum teachers, but their budget is limited as are their resources for in-house training. This is a continuing concern which is being addressed as well as it can be.


I know very few states have mandated programs, with funding from the state- and I assume the gifted groups in wa, have been working to get increased access- how is that going and who are most receptive legislators?

I can't say. The recent state budget did include an increase to the grant to districts for highly capable student programs. I think the governor is getting most of the credit for that.

Anonymous said...

Any time there is a difficult, confusing, bureaucratic mess of a situation, such as we've generally had in the Advanced Learning Office, the people who manage to get through the mess are going to be those who are most persistent and self-assured. Naturally that kind of chutzpah tends to go with other socioeconomic advantages. Doesn't mean those people are purposely *favored* -- the bureaucracy is not easy on anyone.

I've seen the same dynamic at work with rich people I know who have children with severe special needs -- they have an somewhat easier time interpreting the rules and regulations, and getting through bureaucratic requirements, than parents who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Nothing surprising about that, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

To anon 10:08 - I have received the same letter for my son (high test scores, encouraging APP testing) and we are white. My guess is they are sent out based on the scores along and no other demographic data.