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Saturday, July 07, 2007

More Program Decisions through Less Choice?

I had an interesting discussion with a SB candidate recently (I can't say who as I have not yet heard back about blogging about our discussion. I told this person I do blog but I did forget to say that I would likely blog about our discussion and my impressions. It seems bad form to not at least let the person know).

This candidate is clearly in the de Bell camp of pulling back on choice and going with feeder options. I mentioned I could see this in light of the transportation costs but that I still thought that high school should be an open option. (And I know many of you believe that to be a farce because it is unlikely that many could get into certain schools if they are not in that region. Agreed but it doesn't hurt to try.) Or if not an open option, that there would be a lottery for the Ballard biotech program and/or IB programs (at Sealth and Ingraham should they become oversubscribed) as well as an audition process for the jazz bands at Roosevelt and Garfield. (This is a question to ask those schools' music directors: what would you forsee happening to your jazz program if you could only have kids from the region that your school sits in? How many kids currently in your program come from outside the region your school is in?)

This candidate didn't agree, saying that schools won't get their own strong programs if there was a continued fight over getting into a few schools. I get that and I suggested a 4-year program of lottery/auditions while other schools ramp up their efforts. That was rejected.

The problem is that, at least for things like drama and music, the district/school isn't the driver. You have to have a good-to-great director of the program and parents who will work like the devil to make it happen. A few good souls won't do it. (For something like the biotech program, it's up to the district to either make it happen elsewhere or allow a lottery.) Can we count on parents to step up if they are shut out of programs? How long does it take to get excellence and would it be okay to be in a lesser music/drama program if your child was happy?

Lastly, I said, "Well, if you want to restrict choice and tell parents 'you have these limited choices' would it not follow that the district, in order to appease parents who are worried/unhappy with their choices, would have to listen to parents in terms of what they want to see in programming at their local schools?" The candidate said, well, sure but I wasn't sure that was a complete answer.

If you are willing to give on choice, then you need to ask every candidate if they understand what it means on the district's end. If the district enacts a feeder plan and then shrugs when parents put pressure on them for what the parents want to see locally, then you'll have a lot of unhappy people. The current Board is the likely one to put forth this plan (Brita, is the current Board planning to finish the enrollment plan before November?) but that shouldn't stop you from talking to current candidates.

The time is now, right now, to think about what you are willing to do, give up or fight for in terms of where your child goes to school. I am past this point for my children (one in college, the other established at Roosevelt) but I continue to ask these questions (and I'm willing to fight if it helps) because it does matter to the overall stability and health of our district.

74 comments:

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I agree that their needs to be a fair way for childen from all over the city to have access to great programs like drama at Roosevelt, Band at Garfield etc. But I disagre with the audition route. Would this mean that children would have to be masters at their instruments in middle school to even be considered for the Garfield band? How about drama, most of our public schools don't even offer drama as an elective in middle schools. Who would that leave to audition for the drama progam at Roosevelt. The affluent families who have spend thousands of dollars on drama lessons and summer camps? And, what about the late blossoms? The kids who decide in 9th or 10th grade that they have a strong desire to be in a production/play? Is just to bad, since they are not well on their way to Broadway by the time they were in 7th grade? And, what kind of pressure would parents be putting on their kids in elementary and middle school to be prepared for those auditions in high school? Lots to think about.

I think a lottery would be a much better system, and fair to all. I think at the high school level anyone with a strong desire and committment should be allowed to learn and blossom in these fabulous programs.

I don't however totally disagree with the board candidate that you spoke with. I think there is merit in what he/she said. I think all programs will become stronger as we build our own schools to be what we think they should be. If parents aren't working the system to get into the few great programs that stand now they will work toward bettering their own schools. It has always worked this way.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I see your points. There had been an article about 4-5? years back about how there wasn't a single African-American student in the Garfield Jazz band. It was posulated that it was likely because many of those students may not relate to jazz or, as you say, their parents may not have been able to afford private lessons that could get a student to an elite playing status.

I didn't say the drama program should be by audition. In fact, I don't think you have to audition right now to be in the actual drama classes at Roosevelt. I think there are just tryouts for the plays/musicals. So that certainly could be by lottery.

As to pressure, I think if you are auditioning (as already is the case for any student who is assigned to Roosevelt or Garfield who wants to be in their jazz bands), you already are experiencing pressure. These are nationally ranked bands so you'd have to expect that. It still leaves the regular band for other students who just want to play music.

As to your point about kids who blossom in 9th or 10th grade in music/drama? Well, you have exactly the same problem with athletics. But because most schools have tryouts and cuts, many students can't get on a team at such a late stage. You could play a rec sport like Ultimate Frisbee but would be unlikely to make a "regular" sport team. (I know that Hale is a "no-cut" school but if you are not a top player, you spend most of your time bench-sitting.)

Charlie Mas said...

I have just a couple questions.

First, what did it mean when the candidate said, "schools won't get their own strong programs if there was a continued fight over getting into a few schools"? Does that mean that if families in the Southeast have access to the strong jazz program at Garfield, it somehow keeps Franklin from growing one?

Is that what it means? And if so, how exactly does that work? Does the strong program at Garfield suck up all the talent, leaving none for Franklin?

How does that story mesh with the story in the first response? In the first response, the story is that there is lots of talent available that might not pass - or even take - an audition upon entering ninth grade: the inexperienced, the late bloomers, and the students who didn't even know they were interested in those things in middle school. Those students would present themselves in the program at Franklin, wouldn't they?

I can't reconcile the two stories.

Franklin would have a program, right? I can see how every school would offer music and drama in some way, but how would every school offer IB or biotech? How would every school offer similar art or CTE programs?

If these special programs, IB, biotech, specific CTE, etc. can't draw from all parts of the city, then will every school have to offer them? What do you say to the student interested in IB who doesn't live in the Ingraham or Sealth reference area? Move? Too bad? How is that better than what we have now? What if there aren't enough students in the reference area to fill the program? Will it wither and fail? Can the IB program at Ingraham be filled exclusively from students in the Ingraham reference area? How is that better than what we have now?

I see the virtue of choice. I don't see the virture of taking it away. Transportation savings? Hmmm. Should our operational priorities drive our decisions or should academic needs drive them? Which is cheaper - hundreds of METRO bus passes or duplicating IB, biotech and CTE at every school?

SM Schwartz said...

I find the idea of anything BUT choice at the High School level odious. If Seattle can build schools so successful that they are oversubscribed, THAT would be a blessing.

The error here is in the current model of putting resources into neighborhood schools rather than focusing on central high schools.
Ballard, Roosevelt, Garfield are neighborhood schools.Adding magnet programs at these schools creates conflicts between the neighborhood and the larger community.

The record across the US of central city high schools is very good. Why can't we have a central city school here?

Now is esp. a good time because many Seattle folks want to keep racial balance while complying with the new SOCUS rulings and the financial issues. We COULD create a very attractive school that would NATURALLY attract kids from all across Seattle.

I posted on one such idea at my blog: SeattleJew

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I know it's a bit off topic but since you mentioned it can you explain how the sports programs work in HS (we are still in middle school). Do you have to play a sport through middle school to make a HS team? Could a kid with great ability and natural talent but no training make a baseball,soccer or football team? I'm a bit worried because my son has not had an interest in competetive sports until this year (8th grade), and wonder if he'll even have a chance to play next year? Thanks for any info.

Anonymous said...

To prior poster:

"Do you have to play a sport through middle school to make a HS team?"

Not necessarily. It will depend on the sport and the high school, as well as the student's talent.

For example, no SPS middle school has a football program, but if you have played in Pop Warner or some other program before, and have some football skills, you are going to be more likely to make a team at a school that is competative at football. But, that does not mean that a 9th grader with a whole lot of natural talent would not make a team either.

Only a few SPS schools have the ability to field Varsity, JV, and C squad or freshman teams, which also increases the odds that a freshman will make a sports team. Some SPS schools don't have the ability (either by way of student interest or funds) to field three or four teams like the suburban schools do.

The best thing to do is to check in with the Athletic Director of the high school you son is going to be attending to find out what the deal is at that school.

Jet City mom said...

But I disagre with the audition route.

Mee too
While my D had music in 4th and 5th grade- that was all the school offered. Many parents we knew, paid for outside lessons, until their kids got to high school, and I wish we could have done that, but we were already paying for tutoring.
I don't think auditions are needed, but if the school is a clear performing magnet, then the kids who are really interested will apply, whether they have been able to get to a pre-professional level or not.

Re sports-
My D is athletic but not a "natural". All the teams she has been involved in- at her alternative school and at her compehensive high school have been no cut. So while there are sports that are quite competitive, there are also other sports that need even more players than they have.

She is on a rec league soccer team & rugby team and on her schools swim & track team.

Soccer and baseball are often more competitive on school teams- but if he likes soccer, he might love rugby!

Jet City mom said...

Id love to know- if the students who aren't getting into Ballard, are interested in it, because it is a "neighborhood" ( since Queen Anne & Lincoln have been closed for 25 years)high school, &/or because of like the Maritime & Biotech programs.

I don't think "niche" programs should be discarded- on the contrary- but I don't think we would be able to replicate them in each cluster.


my older daughter ( who incidentally was in the same small private school class as the daughter of one of the candidates for the school board) attended a school that wasn't large enough to have comprehensive programs, but it was small enough so that if you wanted to be a part of the musical you could, at the same time you were on the track team.

However, even though this school is competitive for admission, and even though they have more funds per student than publics to build programs, the small size limited the course selection to the college prep basics- art/music/drama, 4 years of foreign lang. 4 years of English/science/math & history.
Few electives- although they have expanded their arts offerings.

While I would expect all comprehensive high schools to have good offerings in math/science/history/english-
I wish they also had more defined differences-
a high school with immersion language-
a environmental/social awareness school,
a school that had vocational instruction- but also graduated students who could go onto college.
Teach metal shop and metallurgy & also chemistry and physics..
A music school that taught traditional instruments, but also theory classes on music as form of expression and communication across cultures and how what we consider music evolves- they could even build their own instruments.

A few years ago, when SPS received Gates money I know at least several principals along with community members and teachers toured schools in other parts of the country to get ideas on what other districts were doing- but what would it take to actually change our offerings?

Some of the districts had auditions, some have charter- some have admission tests , none of those things would go over too well in Seattle, I think.

But I also think, that unless we ahve some sort of choice and some sort of process that feels equitable, we will continue to lose families to neighboring districts/private/homeschooling-
as we have been since I have moved to the city 24 years ago.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Gee, Anonymous, I wish I could be definitive in what goes on for sports in SPS. Problem is, it's site-based management. Each high school's atheletic director makes decisions on their own (with the principal, coaches, etc. naturally).

There is a District Atheletic Director but I think that person really focuses on a district view. For example, the principals of the high schools voted to go back to the Metro league (which would be play between Seattle high schools) versus King Co (which is throughout the area like in Bellevue, Issaquah, etc.) Many parents/ students welcome this because of the long hauls to get to venues. On the other hand, Rainier Beach and Cleveland are small and they worry about being able to compete against larger schools (I believe there is another division for smaller schools; again, not my forte).

My experience was at Hale where they don't cut but my son didn't get to play much at all on the Ultimate Frisbee time (and they told him he wouldn't). My other son tried out for Roosevelt's soccer team and that was an odd experience because it happened over a week, with about 80 boys (for varisity, jv and jvc)but they never gave the boys numbers. My son couldn't understand how they knew who people were. Well, the coaches knew kids from select soccer teams and that's mostly who made the team. My son didn't. But, what ended up happening is that a friend who did make the team told him, a week later, that many kids who made the team weren't showing up for practices. My son went to the coach and asked if he could be on the team and the coach said yes. He did end up with good playing time and it was a good experience.

You'd need to go to the Atheletic directors at whatever high schools you are considering (don't just read their website) and ask them for honest answers. I agree with the person who said if a kid has natural ability they might make the team (especially on football because there is no middle school football so unless you play Pop Warner, most kids don't have football experience - this is one reason you don't see Seattle football teams go to state). It is less likely for soccer and basketball. Ask if there is a booster group and talk to a parent involved with it. That will probably give you the fullest picture about what to expect.

Like it or not, drama/music/atheletics are competitive at the high school level. There are bands at most high schools that I think almost anyone can join. There are rec sports like Ultimate Frisbee (a great sport for girls and boys). But for the base sports like basketball and soccer (and likely tennis, swimming and gymnastics) as well as the jazz bands and plays, you have to try out and kids with more experience are more likely to get selected.

Anonymous said...

The high school pincipals never voted to have the large schools come back to Metro league. They talked about it, but did not end up taking a vote.

http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=metro01&date=20070601&query=Metro+high+school+principals+vote+Hairston

Anonymous said...

"While I would expect all comprehensive high schools to have good offerings in math/science/history/english-
I wish they also had more defined differences-
a high school with immersion language-
a environmental/social awareness school,
a school that had vocational instruction- but also graduated students who could go onto college.
Teach metal shop and metallurgy & also chemistry and physics..
A music school that taught traditional instruments, but also theory classes on music as form of expression and communication across cultures and how what we consider music evolves- they could even build their own instruments."

Are you saying each school only excel at one thing? Maybe I'm ignorant but why would it be so hard to have a language immersion school with strong environmental options and music options etc.

My rural Wisconsin HS was 900 students, we had it all. Great honors program, music programs, foreign language, vocation etc and had a very high graduation and college attendance rate. Why is it so hard to get all these at each SPS if the enrollment numbers are so big? Seriously, I am new to monitoring this blog and want to understand why. Maybe my school didn't go as in-depth into each subject as what kids do now.

Also, I am confused as to why you need 100+ students to have an AP or Spectrum program. We had 5 of us in my HS who self studied quite successfully and all had at least one or two semesters of college credit before we started.

Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:10 PM-

Having had a similar experience in a 700 school in Eastern Oregon, the only thing that comes to mind is that urban schools are a different animal.

Jet City mom said...

Maybe my school didn't go as in-depth into each subject as what kids do now.

thats what I am saying-
You need both numbers and $$$ to support more specific classwork that families and kids look for.

Thats why I used the example of the private school- they had the $$$ but without the numbers- logistics limits the subjects that can be taught.Broad but can't go very narrow. I generally agree with this- you can get specific in grad school.

But I also think it is important to attract and inspire students, to have a way to really hook them into their studies- give them a way to feel like it is meaningful to them.
Our graduation rate is not so good-
I think the " all the schools offer meaningful classes" approach isn't working so well.

Ill use a different analogy.
Going out to eat-you really want berbere spiced food-. Are you going to want to go to a restaurant with a 50 page menu, or are you heading for a place that specializes in Eritean cuisine?

Im a little suspicious of the place with a 50 page menu myself-

Anonymous said...

Rural Wisconsin back again:

I like the idea of a hook to keep kids interested in school (my hook was music) but what if you end up at a school that doesn't have your hook? Or if you have more than one interest, say music and film production and are gifted at math?

At 15-18 years old, do we really want kids to specialize that much? If we need to provide that much of a hook, I'm worried. To me, the hook to stay was the community support I got while I was in school (parents, friends, teachers). Music just made me love being there even more.

Maybe its not the "all schools offer meaningful classes" that is the problem causing high drop out rates. Maybe its something else?

BTW, even in my little home town the School Board members get paid. I am still in disbelief over the volunteer status of the SPS board.

Anonymous said...

Melissa Westbrook says: "There had been an article about 4-5? years back about how there wasn't a single African-American student in the Garfield Jazz band. It was posulated that it was likely because many of those students may not relate to jazz . . ."

Really??

African-Americans don't relate to jazz? Certainly, some don't, but as a whole, jazz as a musical form has far deeper roots in the African-American community than it ever thought about having among other ethnic groups.

To put this forth as a reason there aren't any African-American students in the jazz program is preposterous. Affluence and private lessons might explain the discrepancy; cultural affinity most certainly does not.

Roy Smith said...

anonymous 11:34 wrote: If parents aren't working the system to get into the few great programs that stand now they will work toward bettering their own schools. It has always worked this way.

In smaller towns with less affluent populations, this works. Unfortunately, in a city like Seattle, if there is no system to be worked (i.e., we go to exclusively neighborhood schools), the wealthiest parents and the parents who are willing to sacrifice the most for their children's education will work the lack of a system by moving to the appropriate neighborhood to get into the school of their choice.

Parents that live near Cleveland and Rainier Beach are not going to suddenly take ownership of the quality of the programs there and work for bettering them if we switch to a school assignment process that is primarily neighborhood based. If history is any guide, many will simply leave the neighborhood, which will negatively impact both the schools and the neighborhood.

Switching to neighborhood school assignment at the high school level without fixing the differences in quality (both real and pereceived) between high schools will simply perpetuate all of the same problems and disparities as we have now, only we will no longer have the mechanism (flawed as it is) to try to correct the access issues.

Charlie Mas said...

Every time I read this thread I keep going back to the candidate's proposition that we should not allow students to choose a school outside their neighborhood with a specific program of interest to them, such as IB at Ingraham or Sealth, because it will weaken the program at their reference area school. That might make sense if there were such a program at their reference area school, but what if there isn't? Not every school will have IB. Not now, not ever. So why in the world would we close that program to students from outside a two or three mile radius from the school? Whom does that serve? There is no IB program at their reference area school which will suffer from that student's absence.

Mel specifically mentioned IB to the candidate and the candidate specifically said that IB programs should not be open to students from outside the reference area.

I just don't get that at all. Can someone explain that perspective to me?

At least students at Ingraham or Sealth don't have to be in the IB program. What about students in the Cleveland reference area? Cleveland is not a traditional comprehensive high school. It consists of three theme based Academies and an Arts conservatory. Every student at Cleveland is in one of three narrow career focused tracks: Infotech Academy, Global Studies Academy, and the Health, Environment, and Life Academy (HEAL).

I mention this because there are undoubtedly a number of students living outside the Cleveland reference area who would want access to one of these academies. At the same time, there are, undoubtedly, a number students living within the Cleveland reference area for whom none of these academies is a good match.

While Cleveland has these academies, the school does not offer many (if any) AP classes. Students who want to take several AP classes would not want to enroll at Cleveland and would not be well-served there if they did.

The fact is that not all of the high schools offer the same courses or series of courses. Consequently, we need choice to allow the students to get matched with the right schools.

I'm not talking about choice as a tool to gain access to a school of perceived higher quality; I'm talking about choice as a tool to gain access to a school that offers the appropriate course of study.

Moreover, just as students from all over the District want IB at either Ingraham or Sealth, the IB programs at these schools need to be able to draw students from all over the District to fill their classes. There isn't enough interest in these programs from the students living in the immediate vicinity of the school to support the specialized programs.

If you were assured, based on your home address, that your child would have access to a specific high school near your home, is there any reason to oppose choice? Can someone explain to me why we need to end high school choice? Especially for special programs such as IB, CTE available at only a few locations, the academies at Cleveland, or biotech at Ballard?

What would be wrong with an enrollment form that said this:

Your reference area school is:

Ballard - general education

For this assignment, you needn't do anything. This assignment is assured.

To request assignment to another school or program, please select from the list below. Assignment to these schools or programs is not assured and, if the programs are over-subscribed, enrollment will be determined by a series of tie-breakers. You may list up to three alternative assignments. If you do not receive any of them, you can name additional choices after on-time enrollment. You always have the option of accepting assignment to your reference area school.

Ingraham - IB
Ingraham - Academy of Hospitality and Tourism
Ingraham - Academy of Information Technology
Ballard - biotech
Ballard - maritime academy
Ballard - academy of finance
West Seattle - Environmental Science
Cleveland - Global Studies
Cleveland - HEAL
Franklin - John Stanford Public Service Academy
Franklin - CREATE Academy
Nova
The Center School
Ingraham - general education
Roosevelt - general education
Nathan Hale - general education
Garfield - general education

Is that too hard for the students and families to figure out? Is that too hard for the enrollment department to process?

The hard part, of course, would be keeping people from gaming the system by choosing the biotech program at Ballard to get into the building and then not following that course of study. It would fall to the counselors and the administrators who are responsible for these academies to notify Enrollment of students who have left the program. Again, not too tough if there really are people taking responsibility for the students in these academies.

Charlie Mas said...

Regarding the statement made by anonymous at 11:34:

" I think there is merit in what he/she said. I think all programs will become stronger as we build our own schools to be what we think they should be. If parents aren't working the system to get into the few great programs that stand now they will work toward bettering their own schools. It has always worked this way."

I would remind anonymous, the school board candidate and everyone else of how hard people tried to improve Rainier Beach High School but were stymied by the principal. I would also remind you of how hard the community tried to get rid of the principal but was stymied by the District leadership.

It has NOT always worked that way. Sometimes it doesn't work.

How has it gone at Madrona where local families have tried to change the school "to be what [they] think [it] should be"? Not so good.

The fundamental problem at Seattle Public Schools is that that District is not responsive to the community it purportedly serves. Consequently, we cannot rely on the District's response to community demands as a mechanism for anything to happen. To do so is not reality-based.

Brita said...

Hello all,

As usual, Charlie presents complex ideas in a clear light, including this example of how HS student enrollment could work to both permit people to attend their local HS and also permit students to pursue interests and academic needs elsewhere.

Our new student assignment framework was meant to do this, with the notion of reserving some percentage of HS seats for out-of-area students. What the percentage and tiebreakers should be is yet to be determined so please continue to give input to the board and staff (Tracy Libros).

With all HS going to Metro passes, it should be easier to let students pursue their academic interests city-wide.

Jet City mom said...

African-Americans don't relate to jazz? Certainly, some don't, but as a whole, jazz as a musical form has far deeper roots in the African-American community than it ever thought about having among other ethnic groups.

ya I pretty much hooted at this too.
I don't have a huge collection of jazz/ but, in that collection virtually every musician is African American

However- the cost of private lessons and instrument rental, a perception that jazz is their "parents" music may be discouraging some teens from finding that connection to their roots.

Why I mentioned using music for example as a focus, is that some teens may not be taking up the trumpet, but they are interested in hip hop- I can see using that interest to teach history and literature.

Seattle has a strong history of jazz and blues- and African Americans are at the foundation.
http://www.historylink.org/essays/
output.cfm?file_id=3641

Which is even more reason that seeing Asians and Caucasians dominate the high school jazz bands is disconcerting.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I was referencing the article about the lack of African-American students in the Garfield jazz band and the mention of lack of interest in jazz was within the article, it is not my belief.

Anonymous said...

Charlie you said "It has NOT always worked that way. Sometimes it doesn't work. How has it gone at Madrona where local families have tried to change the school "to be what [they] think [it] should be"? Not so good."

Now, think about this. If the white families couldn't just bail to another school, and they had to stay at Madrona, they probably would have fought for their language program, music, garden, recess, etc. As the community gentrified and the new families started attending the school, it would have eventually changed. It would reflect it's communities wants and needs. As it stands now it really doesn't really have to do that. Famiies that don't like what they see just go elsewhere. Charlie, it has always worked this way.

Melissa Westbrook said...

They did fight at Madrona. They tried politely, asking the principal how this might work. Did you not read Danny Westneat's piece? They hung in there for years with no real feeling from the principal that it would/could change. They did leave (and I think most went to other public schools). What else could they have done given it's a K-8 that they felt didn't welcome their energy and ideas.

It doesn't always work.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Madrona families would have stayed in the SPS system if they had not been allowed to leave the school. Given that these families were quite affluent, and that the principal at the school told them that their programs would not be implemented, I suspect that many of them would have gone to private school. This is especially true in Madrona, where there is a reasonably-priced ($5k/year) Catholic K-8 a few blocks away.

If we are going to go to a system where there is no way to opt out of a neighborhood school that does not meet your child's needs, then we are going to have to do a lot of work to make sure that a school like Madrona can meet the needs of all of its students. All of the students includes the kids who are working at or above grade level, and kids who need help with the basics. It includes families who want 3-Rs and discipline, and families who want recess, art, foriegn language, and interdisciplinary projects. It includes everything in between.

Balancing all these needs and wants is a very hard thing to do in one classroom. If the teacher, principal and the district aren't all committed to making it happen, it's probably an impossible thing to do.

Anonymous said...

To Melissa and the last anonymous- Yes. Melissa I read Danny Westneat's article, and I feel for those parents. But they had the option of trying, giving up, and moving their kids. My point was that if they did not have the option of bailing out maybe they would have stuck it our and eventually gotten what they want. There is always a first, like Rosa Parks, that pave the way for the rest. If all of those families stayed, and more families joined each year, eventually the school would have to give the community what they want.

To anonyous who says "If we are going to go to a system where there is no way to opt out of a neighborhood school that does not meet your child's needs, then we are going to have to do a lot of work to make sure that a school like Madrona can meet the needs of all of its students." And, this is exactly my poing. If families can't opt out they will demand what they think is right, and the demands will be different in each community. I like the idea of choice, but I also see choice making schools competitors and families that can work the system or move to better neighborhoods get the great schools and the undersubscribed schools in the less affluent neighborhoods suffer. Think about what Leschi Elem. would look like if all of the affluent families did not go to McGilvra, Montlake, Stevens, TOPS or private schools. What if those families had to send their kids to Leschi or private? The school would look very different. It would be much much more diverse racially and socio economically, and the parents would demand the programs that they felt their children needed.

Anonymous said...

"Eventually" is a timeframe that is difficult to measure when considering your child's elementary education. For families that would be forced to send their children to an underperforming school because "eventually", they hope, the school will meet all students needs, is a risky proposition that understandably many wouldn't be willing to take. Unless you have walked in these shoes, please don't disparage the school decisions made by people who have chosen to live in neighborhoods in the central district that are socioeconomically and racially diverse. And please don't assume that everyone can just go private. That is far from true.

Anonymous said...

So what is the answer then? Choice has not seemed to work. The good schools are great, while the under subscribed schools are failing pathetically. Is that fair? Should everything stay the way it is and the saavy parents ship their kids to the "good schools" while the kids without saavy parents get stuck with the muck? Limiting choice will level the field somewhat. I say somewhat because those who can will still manipulate the sstem (IE move to the right neighborhood, go private etc).

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the current choice system is meaningful choice for a lot of families. Let's face it, if you live near a failing school, in particular a failing high school, odd are you are never going to get into any of the choicest choice slots, which are now dictated by distance. I am fine with the gauranteed assignment plus set aside for choice, but only if distance is not counted as twice (i.e. first in your guarneteed school and then as a tie-breaker). Unless of course the Board considers a tie-breaker of reverse distance....

Anonymous said...

It's interesting - it's a lot easier to become involved and have influence in an elementary school than in a middle or high school, and there are fewer significant variations of elementary school than there are of high school - yet there will be more elementary school choice in this plan than high school.

You'd almost think it would be the other way around.

Something else I wonder about: many families choose the elementary school they can get yellow bus service to, which by definition is not their "neighborhood" school.

I don't view that as gaming the system - the district gives them a choice and they choose what works for their family.

Even if you can walk your child to the before-school program at your neighborhood school, and it's free (like the yellow bus), chances are you have toddlers or infants at home and can't leave them - and the yellow bus comes almost to your door so you don't have to.

Thus, you can make all of the improvements in the world to the neighborhood elementary school (and I still challenge folks to come up with what those are, thinking that much of the reputation of schools is a lot of urban legend and not much fact) - and it still may not reduce transportation cost.

(The transportation people at the district say that yellow buses do a lot of "swirling" in the neighborhoods around elementary schools - bringing child x to school y and child y to school x - and I've heard principals say they often "swap" populations. I'm wondering how the new design of reference areas and clusters will have an effect on that.)

I'm very interested to see the first draft of the redraws...

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding?? The district should allow parents to choose a school based on yellow bus service so that parents don't have to walk their kids to school and wake up their toddlers. You are kidding, right? I want my tax dollars to go to the classrooms, to reduce class size, for music, art etc. Not so parents don't have to fulfil their responsibilities and walk their kid to school. Seattle's liberal thinking goes way to far sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 10:22 says they don't think the current choice system represents meaningful choice, and I think he/she is right. It doesn't work the way it is now. I live less than 2 miles from Roosevelt and didn't get in, so of course, nobody in SE Seattle got in either (unless they were a sib). Same for elementary. We live in the NE cluster, and my neighbor applied for Bryant, Wedgewood, Laurelhurst (all in our cluster) and didn't get into one of them. They dumped her into John Rogers. So choice doesn't work. I think it is high time the assignment plan gets an overhaul and I am anxious to see what they come up with for boundaries. Almost anything will be better than what we have now, unless of course, you are the few lucky enough to live across the street from Roosevelt, Bryant, Montlake or McGilvra, etc.

Anonymous said...

I can see that the current choice system needs some tinkering but am still struggling to understand how limiting choice is going to help those assigned to struggling schools.

How does limiting choice "level the playing field"?

OK, maybe I could be more positive about the SE Initiative. But, the
amount of time and money and vision that will be needed to turn around Rainer Beach and Cleveland High Schools is immense.

If you knew that your middle school kid would likely end up at
Rainier Beach or Cleveland would you think that "levels the playing field"?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Something to remember about the enrollment plan (which may continue with the new one); you don't get "dumped" anywhere. You get placed if you don't put down many choices. I always tell people to put down at least 5 choices. Why? Because it is better for you to choose than the district. If they run through your choices and there's no room, THEY will place your child where there's room.

Also, can we please remember that there are students at many of these schools we discuss. Many people, even if they are in a less than great school, care deeply about it. Let's not put down others' schools even if they wouldn't be our choice.

Jet City mom said...

one of the things that hasn't been addresses- and I don't know if it will be, is the way students are assigned to schools who are in SPED.

Last year for example, there was a publicized case of a student who was already enrolled at one school where she was happy - but the district decided that they wanted her at a different school so they moved her.


My experience has been the IEP serves the needs of the district, not the child & students with diverse needs are lumped together in the same classroom.
For example at one school students with extreme physical disabilties- are in the same classroom with students with extreme behavior needs.
They don't have the same needs but they are in the same category so the district views them needing the same program.

Students needed inclusion services are told that the neighborhood school is "full" and they may have to take any program with an opening, despite their families preference.

I hope we don't forget these students in our quest to bring equity to neighborhood choices

Anonymous said...

I think that whatever the new assignment plan is, there will be neighborhood students that don't get into northend schools. Redrawing reference areas will not add capacity.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the capacity issue in the North end. As for your friend who was assigned to John Rogers after not getting into any of the schools you mentioned....is John Rogers their reference school? Do they live in the Matthews Beach area? If so, I know that has happened to several people I know. The only school I know that someone got into is Sacajawea (unless their kids are older, then I know a few who got Laurelhurst). It's a tricky area of the city to live in. If they don't live in that area, I'd really be curious as to where they live.

They desperately need to add capacity at the elementary and Middle school level in the NE. High school too, though maybe an expanded and possibly improved to meet more people's liking Nathan Hale will solve that

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous at 9:34. That is absurd to think that choice should include people who just prefer yellow bus service so that they don't have to walk their kids to school. I doubt that this was what was intended when Seattle instituted choice. I think choice was so that children could find a program that meets their academic and social needs, not their parents ability to get them to school.

I know a family who chose Salmon Bay because the bus ride was an hour each way. She was able to put her kid on a bus at 8A and he got home at 430P, thus allowing her to work full time. I agree that this is NOT what my tax dollars should go to. I wholeheartedly agree with choice when it is for the needs of a child, not so parents can get an extra couple of hours of daycare.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous at 10:07 who said "I can see that the current choice system needs some tinkering but am still struggling to understand how limiting choice is going to help those assigned to struggling schools."

We already have limited choice. Have you tried to get your kid into a top performing school like Montlake, McGilvra, View Ridge, Bryant? How about Eckstein, Roosevelt or Ballard? If these are not your reference schools, then you aren't getting in. There is not even enough room for the kids in the cluster let alone from all over the city. How about TOPS or Salmon Bay? Salmon Bay had a 120 kids waitlist for 6th grade this year. The principal at TOPS told me to not even apply for 6th grade as they only open about 2 or 3 seats, and I probably wouldn't get in. Even if we were so lucky as to get into a school like Bryant, I would have to drive my kid. Choice doesn't provide transportation for out of cluster traditional schools. So how is a low income family from SE Seattle going to get their kids up north to Bryant? It just doesn't work. Choice is a joke.

Now choice does work for the under enrolled (read: under performing) schools in the city. A family could get into Rainier Beach, Aki, etc. That hardly seems fair to me. Does it really seem like it's working or fair to you?

We need a new system. The board is proposing guaranteed assignment to a neighborhood school, limited choice to a few other schools, and set aside seats for out of neighborhood kids in High school. It is a move in the right direction. And it's about time.

Anonymous said...

The freind of ours who couldn't get into Bryant, Laurelhurst or View Ridge, lives between Wedgewood and Rogers. She is in the cluster of all the schools that she aplied for, but rogers was her reference school. That's why I say choice is absurd. You really don't have a choice when you are trying to get into a high performing school. So how would limited choice been any different for this family? At least they could have predicted that they would getinto rogers and have had a choice of choosing private school. The family was distressed when they got the news in April that their kid didn't get into there choice schools, as it was to late to apply for private schools. They felt trapped. I don't blame them.

Jet City mom said...

I agree that the optimum would not be yellow bus = child care.

I know Sacajawea used to have child care on site- so does West Woodland- few schools do though.
Summit had childcare- but the district moved them out of the building ( although they could have housed them in a nice portable or three like some schools do- the way West Woodland was built, it looks like childcare was in mind during the planning, same with Olympic View.
Unfortunately at Summit- they were then forced to reconfigure the school and add a additional 6th grade class ( they have 6th in with elementary) for several years, to accomodate students who didnt get into Eckstein.
Those kids didn't have much choice- they didn't get Eckstein- but if you live in Lake City and Eckstein is full, what else is there?
Alternative schools shouldn't be forced- it doesn't really work for anyone.

But I agree that we need to get more data on how many families are using transportation for child care and how many are choosing schools farther away because their child doesn't have a safe walk route.

These families I bet- are the ones who may be able to really benefit from a good support system/program, and it certainly is cheaper to recognize who needs support in 2nd grade, than to find remedial classes in 9th.

Anonymous said...

Currently the prinicpal at a school like Madrona can simply say to the parents who are demanding a program that meets their needs "No, we don't want a garden and recess. We're focused on getting low-performing students to pass the WASL. If you don't like that, tough."

Those parents currently have the option to move their children to a different school that will meet their needs. If we eliminate that option, we must also elimiate the ability of the principal to say "No we don't want to do that".

But, then, what do we do in a school like Madrona where there are groups of parents in the neighborhood who want very different programs? Programs that seem, at least on the surface, to be incompatible with one another? How do we serve all those kids well in the same classroom? How is that better than letting schools differentiate themselves with programs that work for different groups of kids, and letting parents pick the ones they like?

Where do alternative pedagogies fall into this? Does every neighborhood school have to offer Montessori and Spectrum? Or do we do away with those choices too?

Charlie Mas said...

Re-drawing reference areas will not add capacity, no, but right-sizing the reference areas will force the District to confront the areas of inadequate capacity.

Right now, the District is in a bit of denial about capacity. Depending on what numbers you use (the capacity figures given for schools can vary significantly), it appears that there is not enough seats to provide a every student a guaranteed seat at a nearby school. This is particularly the case in high schools in the north-end.

The District has, so far, tried to address this problem by inventing new higher capacities for the buildings.

This problem is compounded when the District considers withholding 10% of the seats for out-of-reference area students. It will be compounded further when seats are set aside for special programs - Special Ed, IB, APP, Bilingual, and specific CTE programs.

The problem will be mitigated a bit by subtracting back the students who enroll in special programs at other schools, students who enroll in alternative schools, and students who take the out-of-reference area seats at other schools. That will offer a bit of slack, but just a bit.

In the end, the District will have to take the only reasonable step. They will have to re-open Lincoln as a comprehensive high school for about 800 students. If they are smart - and they can be smart at times - they would move Summit K-12 into another part of that building. They can use Wilson-Pacific as the interim site for north-end schools under construction.

You might think that the Jane Addams building would then be available for use as a comprehensive middle school or as a big K-8 (like Broadview-Thomson), but that won't be necessary. There is, actually, PLENTY of middle school capacity in the north-end. Hamilton will be rebuilt with a capacity of 900 or 1,000 (depending on whom you ask). There are 724 students there now. It might appear, therefore, that Hamilton has room for another 175 to 275 students. But 270 of the 724 students at Hamilton come from the Southeast Region. After those students are denied access and transportation to Hamilton, there will be 445 to 545 available seats in that new building. That will provide all of the additional capacity the north end needs.

Here's another truth that everyone will have to confront: the shortage of middle school seats in in the Southeast. You know that building at Southshore that is supposed to be for The New School. Guess what? The District is going to need to use it as a traditional comprehensive 6-8 - one of the uses it is supposed to be built to accomodate. The New School is going to have to find some other space to occupy. I don't think that Columbia can be made to work in the long-term, perhaps something can be done with Rainier View. The only other suitable building in that part of the Distict is the AAA.

I cannot imagine the District ever finding the political will to close the AAA and use the building to house The New School, but that is the move that makes sense.

Charlie Mas said...

Sometimes it is difficult for me to discern what people want.

When Choice is a farce writes that families cannot choose schools that are full, what is the point? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is it a good thing because school choice is seen as damaging to communities or is it a bad thing because the writer is a proponent of choice?

What is the alternative? Schools with amazing expanding capacity?

If you have a complaint, please suggest a solution.

Roy Smith said...

One of the problems I see with trying to solve all of the challenges of school assignment, equitable access, and transportation costs is that the problem simply appears too large to be solved in one step. It seems to me that it will be far more productive to plan on taking many small steps with a clear idea of what the end goal might look like, and allow for the fact that some steps might in fact turn out to be mis-steps, and the fact that doing everything at once may be unachievable.

With that in mind, I think we need to focus 1) on the end goal and 2) what are some ACHIEVABLE steps that can be taken.

1) The End Goal: For me, the end goal is that most students attend a school close to their home (or to their childcare) that serves their needs well. For very specialized programs that are only offered one or two places in the city, the goal is access that is as equitable as possible.

2) A few Small Achievable Steps (not intended to be a comprehensive list):

A) Right size the reference areas. This one is obvious, and I personally think it should be done on an annual basis for the entire district.

B) Move all high school student transportation to Metro. As far as I know, this one is pretty much a done deal.

C) Fix the problems and disparities with access to Spectrum programs and program placement.

D) Draw a sharper line between alternative/non-traditional programs and reference area schools. After we have decided which is what, make the assignment procedures for each class of schools (reference area vs. alternative/non-traditional) more uniform to the extent possible.

E) Find ways to encourage as many students as possible who live in the walk zone of a school to walk to that school. I think financial incentives should be included as a possibility in this particular discussion.

I don't think it is possible for SPS to fix all the problems at once. What needs to happen is that the big problems need to be broken into smaller pieces that can be fixed, and that list of smaller fixable problems can be moved through as aggressively as possible.

Melissa Westbrook said...

A couple of thoughts/comments

-no one is forced to go to an alternative. The district never assigns alternatives - you have to pick it

-Charlie, you may have something there about New School. (Not that I agree that it will be a middle school - not with the leverage New School has.) The district repeatedly said during the levy/bond measures that they were building a K-8/middle school on that site and not building it for anyone in particular. It could someday be a middle school.

-also, keep in mind, if you are willing to move your child, you may be able to get into the school you want. Ask every single week in September/early October if the waitlist has moved. It might. Also, consider moving your child in 1st/2nd grade. Yes, it will be painful but if you believe a certain school will be better for your child, there's an option. There are sometimes more seats at those grade levels (I know this is often true for high school.)

Anonymous said...

Adding on to what Melissa said, it is much easier to get your child into one of the NE cluster schools for first or 2nd grade. My daughter had a boy in her class that lived by Roosevelt (she goes to View Ridge). I asked her how he got in and his big brother transferred in 2nd grade after being unhappy with a private school. I also have a friend in Bryant who got her child in View Ridge for 1st grade (she is also transferring from a private school). So, if your friend is willing to do John Rogers one year, they might have a shot next year. Also - if your friend is not against Catholic school, I heard ASB has a Kindergarten opening. The Catholic school in Wedgwood probably has openings too.

That all said, I have spoken to parents who are at John Rogers who really like it. I heard their music teacher is amazing. I have never spoken to someone at the school who hates it - it is always people from the outside saying bad things. It always makes me wonder if it just gets a bad rap through word of mouth but is not as bad as people say.....

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 2:32 raises some interesting points in that he/she points out that a principal has control over what programs a school will or will not offer, as in the case with Madrona. All I can say to this is the school will conform to the majority. Right now the majority are lower income minority families who believe that a strong focus on the basics prevail over offering the arts, a garden, recess etc. This will change as the school population changes and perhaps gentrifies. This is the beauty of a neighborhood school. The school will untimately have to conform to what the neihborhood wants.

And by the way families will still have choice, though it will be a bit more limited than the choices they have now. Nobody will be "forced" into any school. They will just have a guaranteed assignment to a neighborhood school and limited choice elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Charlie says "What is the alternative? Schools with amazing expanding capacity? If you have a complaint, please suggest a solution."

My point was that choice is not working for many families. As I said in my earlier post..unless you live in the reference area of a "popular" school, you are not going to get in. So how is choice benefiting you? You ask me for a solution, but I do not in my wildest dreams pretend that I have one. I am a parent, not an analyst. But the district is working on providing a solution. That was my point. They are working on the new assignment plan. And since this one does not work, I am in hopes that the new one is an improvement.

I would love choice if it worked. I would be choice's biggest fan if it worked. But, sadly, it doesn't. Do you disagree, Charlie? Has choice worked for you? Or are you in the APP program (I forget), where choice wouldn't really apply to you?

Jet City mom said...

one is forced to go to an alternative. The district never assigns alternatives - you have to pick it

As the cochair of Summit that wasnt our experience- we left after 8th grade, 3 years ago.

Not me personally, but the PIC centers pushed Summit on parents and didn't allow them to choose other schools according to more than one family.

They were told because Eckstein was over enrolled- that the only way they were going to have any control over what they had to choose from was to select a school that had openings.

If all the schools they selected were over enrolled- they would just be assigned a school.

So technically yes- they did choose Summit, as it was one of their top 5 choices, but they didn't choose it.

Anonymous said...

Class of 75

"Last year for example, there was a publicized case of a student who was already enrolled at one school where she was happy - but the district decided that they wanted her at a different school so they moved her."

Happy is not what the federal law requires for special education students. The law requires the district to place the student in a program in which they will recieve a meaningful educational benifit. And the law allows a parent of such a child a right to go before an adminstrative law judge to challenge any current or proposed change if they see fit.

I know the instance you are referring to, and I was APPALLED that the student's educational situation was exploited by a group of parents angry with a particular building adminstration. The poor child was treated like the building mascot who was there so other kids could learn tolerance rather than as a student who had a right to a meaningful education just like that student's non-disabled classmates.

Anonymous said...

To some earlier points, it's hard to understand how people can talk about being "dumped" at a school - it's such an insult to the staff and community of said school and sounds pretty petulant, as in "I didn't get what I wanted and now I'm mad."

And I wonder what their kids end up thinking about the school they land in? That it's a dump? I don't think that's setting the right kind of example - or the right tone for a learning experience.

Especially when much of the time (especially with elementary) it is what you make it.

I've almost come around to thinking "why is there choice in elementary, again?"

Jet City mom said...

The law requires the district to place the student in a program in which they will recieve a meaningful educational benifit.

Oh is that
what the district is interested in?
Im wondering how they determine that if they don't evaluate students with IEPs/504s?

FOr students to receive meaningful benefit, then the IEP would have to be legal and address areas of strength as well as of need.
However- often they have very minimal goals, probably why our state is in trouble.


Actually the law states it needs to be least restrictive environment- and that sounds like mainstreaming to me.

Also according to the latest govt evaluation of how states are meeting requirements of IDEA statute, these states and territories are identified as needing intervention.

Colorado
Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands
Washington, DC
Federated States of Micronesia
Indiana
North Carolina
North Dakota
Puerto Rico
Virgin Islands
Washington
Pretty illustrious company we have there

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/
education/20070620-1439-specialedlaw.html

Anonymous said...

Federal law, not state law, defines LRE. Washington is behind because it has not yet adopted regulations to impliment the newest version of the IDEA. BTW, "mainstreaming," does not equal putting a 12 year old in a classroom of first graders.

Anonymous said...

I used the term "dumped" because it was not on this families enrollment application. They listed 5 schools and Rogers was not one of them. The district did a mandatory assignment to the only under subscribed school in the cluster. In my book that's getting "dumped". A mandatory assignment to a school that's not on your enrollment application is equivalent to being "dumped" in my book. Rogers is the lowest performing school in the cluster, and is simply not competetive with Bryant, Wedgewood, View Ridge, Laurelhurst. You can make it what you will but you are still in a school that you didn't choose, that for whatever reason you did not think would fit your childs needs. The earlier poster is right, in that once there, most families tend to be OK with the school, and some wind up really liking it. But that doesn't change my original point that choice is a farce.

Anonymous said...

I'm having a difficult time figuring out how to post a link, but if you go to Oregonlive.com and search "school boundaries" you will find an interesting article called "If shopping for a school, just redraw the map"

It's relating to Portland and some controversy as to how the boundaries are currently drawn - anyway, an interesting read because it made me wonder how controversial the results of the School boards "guaranteed assigned school" by neighborhood will be.

Jet City mom said...

http://www.pps.k12.or.us/schools-c/
boundaries/index0708.php

Pretty cool you can type your address in and it tells you what school
The elementary that is closest to my daughter who lives in se Portland, is an Arts focus, has 3 all day Ks, plus before and after care.

http://www.pps.k12.or.us/schools-c/
profiles/?id=837

Charlie Mas said...

I think that Choice works as well as it can be reasonably expected to work. Just because some people do not get their first or second choice does not mean that Choice doesn't work.

"My point was that choice is not working for many families. As I said in my earlier post..unless you live in the reference area of a "popular" school, you are not going to get in. So how is choice benefiting you?"

Just because a person does not get into their first choice popular school, doesn't mean that Choice doesn't work and it doesn't mean that Choice didn't benefit you personally.

I think we all need to recognize that schools have finite capacity and that the District needs to apply some rational method of deciding which students are assigned to over-subscribed schools.

If you select a bunch of over-subscribed schools and a whole lot of other people live closer to those schools than you do, then you need to be realistic about your chances to gain entry to them. I'm not saying that you shouldn't list the school on your form if that is what you truly want, but recognize how this thing works and keep your expectations reality-based.

Finally, I think a lot of people are using Choice improperly. If your reference area school is able to meet your child's academic needs, then why in the world wouldn't you choose it? Because there is another school with higher test scores? That doesn't seem a proper reason to me. That's like choosing a mutual fund based exclusively on last year's return numbers without any other considerations. I know a lot of people do it that way, but that doesn't make it right or smart.

My children are now in APP, but they didn't start there. My eldest daughter first attended our reference area school for kindergarten. She qualified for Spectrum for the first grade and we had a talk with the teachers and principal at her school. They said that they would do their best, but that they were not set up to meet her academic needs in the same way that a Spectrum program would be. We didn't have confidence in the Spectrum program in our cluster nor did we care for some other elements of the school, so we chose Lafayette for her for the first grade. She was at Lafayette through the fourth grade and her sister was there for kindergarten through the second grade. They both qualified for APP that year and we moved them to Lowell for fifth and third grade.

Without Choice, they would have been at the Spectrum school for our cluster. Not only do I have serious doubts about the effectiveness of that Spectrum program, the school did not appeal to us in a number of other ways - the way they handled discipline issues, the culture of the school, etc. I recognize that my family's story is not typical, but it's not about what is best for me or my family. In all my years of advocacy, I have rarely - if ever - advocated for anything that would directly serve my children.

Let's not determine that Choice doesn't work because it cannot produce miracles. Let's have less negativity and more positive suggestions. How can Choice be improved?

Finally, I have never been to a PIC center (or whatever the District is calling them these days) but I sure have heard a lot of horror stories about what people are told at them. Yow!

Anonymous said...

What if you couldn't send you child to Lafayette for Spectrum? What if you had to go to your in cluster Spectrum school? What if all of the other involved families in you neighborhood also had to go to Lafayette, and couldn't simply move out of cluster? What if for many many years before your children went to this school, most of the other families in your neighborhood chose this school? The school would be a very different school, no? The culture, discipline issue etc., would all be different, no? They would have to be, because the school would reflect what the parents attending it wanted, no?

Charlie Mas said...

No.

I simply see no evidence to support the conjecture that if a bunch of families were somehow compelled to enroll their children in a school - or even if they did it by choice - that the school's culture would change to reflect the values of those new families.

Exhibit A: Madrona. A significant number of families worked for a number of years but that school did not change to reflect what the families at the school wanted. Let's remember that local White students made up half of a recent kindergarten class at Madrona. They were not a tiny minority. Read Madrona's School Transformation Plan. They specifically say that they want more family involvement, but only from African-American families. They feel that the involvement from White families is disproportionately high and they sought a more proportionate outcome.

Exhibit B: Washington. APP students are compelled to attend Washington for middle school, just as anonymous proposed for Spectrum. The central region Spectrum students have no other option either. APP makes up 40% of the students at Washington. Spectrum makes up another 15% of the enrollment, yet the school does not provide academically challenging electives despite the constant demand for them. Students who aren't involved in instrumental music simply are not served for one third of the day. When is Washington going to reflect the needs of these students? Are the parents not involved enough? Are they not a big enough contingent at the school? Have they not been there long enough? Why hasn't the school automatically changed to reflect what the students attending it want? It hasn't happened because that is not the why it works.

Some principals just are not responsive to their communities. That's just the way it is. The District does not require or enforce any sort of responsiveness.

Do you want to know why some schools have a lot of involved families and some don't? I think it is because some schools encourage involvement and some discourage it.

There is one model that suggests that there are these golden families out there - families that will get involved in their children's education, attend parent-teacher conferences, volunteer in the classroom and work fundraisers for the PTA. In this model these families use school choice to self-select each other to form all-star teams at a few annointed schools and leave all of the other schools bereft.

That's one model. Here's another: the school can do things to either encourage or discourage family involvement. Some schools do one, some do the other, and some are neutral. A family may want to be involved in their child's school, but if the school is unwelcoming, the family will eventually give up and go away.

Please do not indulge in these fantasy conjectures about "if only you had sent your child to that school it would become the school that you want it to be". There is scant evidence to support that proposition and there is little reason to believe it would happen without significant administrative support - which is rarely present.

Families cannot reform a school, only a principal can. The naivete of those who believe in these myths would be charming if it were not so damaging.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, I think you underestimate how many parents regard a school as being inadequate if it is not "the number one school" by whatever criteria they use to evaluate schools. Oftentimes, it seems this criteria is centered about how impressed their friends will be about the school that they are sending their children to.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, as you say 1/2 of the kindergarten class at Madrona was white. The rest of the school was almost all black, so the 20 or 30 kids in the kindergarten were still in the minority, the rest of the school is primarily lower income black families. Of course those 20 or 30 white families are not going to change the culture of the school, and they shouldn't. They are the minority. But, after 4 or 5 years of all of the kindergarten classes being 1/2 white, the white families would be in or close to the majority at the school, and would then naturally have a lot of influence of the culture of the school. That's the way it works. As for the principal wanting only black families to volunteer, it sounds like a last ditch desperate attempt to prevent the school from gentrifying. It is fruitless.

As for the APP/music issue, I have to ask because I don't know. What percentage of families are involved with the music program? Is it an overwhelming majority? I know at Eckstein I hear parents who don't have kids interested in music complain because Eckstein too has few elective offerings. They are the minority though. The school is giving it's community what they want. The community as a whole wants the school to have a strong, cometetive music program, and that's what they got. If the school didn't put so much effort and resources into the music program, and it was one of many electives, it would be an average music program not an award winning program like Washington/Garfield/Eckstein/Roosevelt have. If the majority of families in APP did not want a strong music rogram, and opted for a more full elective offering, my guess is the school would eventually have to conform.

Please don't call my opinions "fantasy conjectures". This blog is about sharing our opinions. I disagree with your theory on neighborhood schools, but I refrain from insulting it.

Anonymous said...

Charlie-

What do you propose Washington do facilitate offering the "academically challenging electives" you want for your APP child? Drop its general education program, force the nieghborhood kids out and retask those teachers and space for providing electives to the APP and Spectrum students? Boot out the bilingual program so that for 1/3 of the day there is string music? I am sorry, but this is miopic thinking that focuses on one population's need to the exclusion of others.

Roy Smith said...

anonymous 9:43 said: Charlie, as you say 1/2 of the kindergarten class at Madrona was white. The rest of the school was almost all black, so the 20 or 30 kids in the kindergarten were still in the minority, the rest of the school is primarily lower income black families. Of course those 20 or 30 white families are not going to change the culture of the school, and they shouldn't. They are the minority.

I am just imagining the uproar that this sort of statement would trigger if the ethnic groups cited in this example were reversed.

Is it okay for minorities to not have a voice, and to have their concerns ignored because they are not the majority? What happens if I take this sort of thought process to its logical conclusion?

Anonymous said...

I'm going to use my own situation as an example. I'm not saying that the district should optimize for me, but I suspect that there are many others in similar situations, and that it may be a useful example.

I live in the old MLK reference area. I'm about the same distance from Madrona as I am from McGilvra. McGilvra is currently my reference school, but that could change with the new boundaries.

My child is 3 years old. She is already starting to read. Both my husband and I have IQs above 140, and she shows signs of being similar. I went to private school, and that experience is not what I want for my child. I really, really want to send her to public school.

Point 1: Acceptable program.
The current program at Madrona would not serve her needs. The program at McGilvra might. APP or Spectrum might, but neither offers Kindergarten (why is that?). I have also heard that the Spectrum program at Leschi isn't very effective, and their test scores surpise me (how do a large % of Specrrum students fail the WASL? I don't get that). Montessori might work, and I was involved in the Montessori program at MLK. I don't know if that's still running at T.T. Minor. Bagley and Graham Hill are too far away (for both me and the district). I don't know enough about the general ed program at TT Minor to know if it would work, but it's unlikely to be my reference school anyway.

Unless Madrona's program has changed *a lot* 2 years from now, I will not enroll my daughter there.

If I don't have a choice of another school for K, I will go private. I don't want to go private, and I might look at APP after a few years, but I might also decide that the transition is not worth it.

Point 2: frequent right-sizing of reference areas

Class of 75 suggests that reference area boundaries be redrawn anually to accomodate changing populations. This does make some sense, but it significantly reduces predicatability for those of us who live near 2 schools. I could see my house moving from one reference area to another every year or two. I'm not sure what that would do to my middle school choices.

Point 3: K-8 vs K-5

Madrona is a K-8. McGilvra is a K-5. If Madrona is my reference elementary school, does that mean that it's also my reference middle school? What if I want a comprehensive middle school? What if my house is in the McGilvra reference area when my kid starts K, and in the Madrona reference area when she starts 6th grade? Will I have the choice of sending her to Washington with the rest of her class, or will she have to go to Madrona?

I guess my point is that I'm not at all convinced that the proposed assignment plan improves predicatability when you start looking at the details for a real address and the real schools near that address.

Roy Smith said...

98112 writes: Class of 75 suggests that reference area boundaries be redrawn anually to accomodate changing populations. This does make some sense, but it significantly reduces predicatability for those of us who live near 2 schools. I could see my house moving from one reference area to another every year or two. I'm not sure what that would do to my middle school choices.

I think that for most families, the only year that the reference area really should matter is the year the oldest child is entering kindergarten. After that, sibling tiebreakers and the fact that one is automatically enrolled at the same school year after year make reference areas less important. As part of resizing reference areas annually, I would propose that the district should commit to preserving the ability of families to remain in one school throughout the elementary years.

As for middle school assignment, I think the feeder pattern should be based on the school actually attended for elementary, NOT where the child resides. So, once you know where you are for elementary school, then you know where your default middle school would be.

Roy Smith said...

98112's comments about K-8 vs. K-5 raise some interesting questions that I have not heard seriously addressed by anybody. This could be a topic for a separate thread, as I think that the subject of reference area K-8s and how they fit into the school system as a whole needs to be addressed more thoroughly.

Questions that are created by reference area K-8s:

Are they going to use the same assignment preferences as other reference area schools? What if a family wants access to a K-8 but lives in the reference area of a K-5? Will there be out-of-reference-area set aside seats for the K-8? Conversely, if a family does not want their elementary school child in a building with 6-8th graders, but live in the reference area for a K-8, how easy will it be to opt out as moves are made to limit choice somewhat?

Is the middle school portion of a reference area K-8 going to have more students per grade level or the same number? If the same number, then will the middle school portion be considered equivalent to comprehensive middle schools? Will the resources be put into reference area K-8s to upgrade and add facilities so that they have the same sorts of resources that are available at our existing comprehensive middle schools?

If there are more students per grade level in the middle school portion than the elementary school portion, then how exactly is that different from an elementary school and otherwise ordinary middle school that share a building and campus? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such an arrangement?

If feeder patterns from elementary to middle school are adopted, how will reference area K-8s fit in? Will the default middle school for a student enrolled in the elementary portion of a reference area K-8 be that school? What if an elementary student or their family want a comprehensive middle school - are they last in line to get that choice, since everybody else will have preference via feeder patterns?

If clusters are made smaller, will there be an effort made to create a reference area K-8 in every cluster? If not, will transportation be provided to an out of cluster K-8 if there is not one available in cluster?

What are the advantages (real or perceived) of having K-8 schools in the first place? Why is the K-8 idea so popular right now? What are parents and families expecting that they will get out of it?

Anonymous said...

Adding onto Roy's comment...

Will the middle school portion of a K8 only be fed by the elementary portion of that school, or also by nearby elementary schools?

For example, is it possible that McGilvra would be a feeder for 6-8 at Madrona? It is the closest school offering 6-8.

I've been involved in a few corporate mergers and re-organizations, and merging those two school cultures sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

Charlie Mas said...

anonymous at 9:43 wrote:
"But, after 4 or 5 years of all of the kindergarten classes being 1/2 white, the white families would be in or close to the majority at the school, and would then naturally have a lot of influence of the culture of the school. That's the way it works."

That is what happened. For the past several years in a row a significant portion, up to a half, of the incoming kindergarten classes were children from local White and Asian families. Yet despite their numbers and involvement, they were not able to influence the culture of the school. The simple fact is that it does not work the way that you suppose.

This isn't some theoretical model, this is a real school right here in Seattle.

I know people who are trying to do this work and none of it happens naturally or automatically. Do you know how long and hard some Mount Baker families have been working to improve John Muir? Talk to Pat Murakami some time about what it takes to change a school.


anonymous at 9:43 wrote:
"If the majority of families in APP did not want a strong music program, and opted for a more full elective offering, my guess is the school would eventually have to conform."

Your guess would be wrong. There are over 1,000 students at Washington. About 400 of them are active in the instrumental music program. Shouldn't there be worthwhile electives for the other 600? These kids have to be in some class doing something with a teacher's supervision. The school does not offer academically challenging electives because those classes have students from all programs at the school: APP, Spectrum, general education, special education, and bilingual education. The administration and staff don't believe they can differentiate instruction in these classes to serve all of those populations, so the electives are without academic rigor.

I referred to your conjectures as "conjectures" because that is what they were.

Please re-read your post of 6:33:

"What if you couldn't send you child to Lafayette for Spectrum? What if you had to go to your in cluster Spectrum school? What if all of the other involved families in you neighborhood also had to go to Lafayette, and couldn't simply move out of cluster? What if for many many years before your children went to this school, most of the other families in your neighborhood chose this school? The school would be a very different school, no? The culture, discipline issue etc., would all be different, no? They would have to be, because the school would reflect what the parents attending it wanted, no?"

Statements that begin "what if" and conclude "would be" are conjecture, not facts.

They were not actual situations but imagined ones. I referred to them as fantasies because they were not reality-based. They did not reflect the bulk of actual experiences.

I am sincerely interested in sharing opinions, but please recognize that when your opinions are entered into the marketplace of ideas, they may be challenged. I am ready to have my opinions challenged and I am ready to change my opinions in the face of contrary evidence or compelling logic.

Your opinion does not appear to be built on fact or sound logic, but on a belief in the goodness and fairness of people in positions of authority. I fear this belief is not often substantiated.

If it helps any, I apologize for the words "fantasy conjecture" as I can see that they were unduly insulting. I should have taken the time to select less dismissive language. A better choice would have been "optimistic assumptions".

As for anonymous at 9:51, I love your rhetorical device of assigning to me an absurd perspective that I would never endorse and then ridiculing me as if I had proposed it. It would be funny if it were not so inept. What do you propose, killing all children born to families north of the Ship Canal? I am sorry to disappoint you, but that is both cruel and illegal.

I don't think it is a lot to expect for a middle school to offer academically challenging electives that all of the school's students might find broadening, enjoyable, and educational. Possibilities include journalism, media, video production, web design, a third year of world language classes, creative writing, a third year of art classes, drama, current events, drafting, engineering, a class focused on a specific period of history such as Ancient Egypt, or a class focused on a specific range of literature such as American Novels. There are LOTS of possibilities, many of them available at other Seattle middle schools.

I don't mean to take this thread off on another tangent about middle school electives. The point is that schools do not automatically change to reflect the interests, priorities, or preferences of the students (and families) enrolled. If a school is not an appropriate choice for a student, enrolling the student there - or even a number of similar students there - will not transform the school into one which is appropriate.

Schools can change, but only with a tremendous amount of effort and, even then, only with the support of the principal and staff. The principal and staff rarely support change because they are generally the architects of the school's current status and culture.

There is a dangerous set of optimisitc assumptions in wide circulation that presumes that schools change to reflect changing populations. There is no evidence to support this assumption. There is, in fact, a great deal of evidence to dispute it.

If we were to make decisions about the design of the student assignment plan based on these faulty assumptions, we would build failure into the system.

Moreover, this set of assumptions tends to misplace blame for low performing schools on families who are not part of that school's community. All of the people at the school got together and agreed to blame the people who aren't there.

Roy Smith said...

Implicit in the post by Anonymous 6:33 is that there exists some means by which families can be forced to send their children to particular schools, thus creating the critical mass of involved parents and well-prepared students that would make all the neighborhood schools better.

This simply won't work. No matter what system is used, if a school is bad enough, families will find ways to avoid it, even if in the extreme case, by leaving the district.

Parental involvement can and should be an important component of successful schools. However, parental involvement alone will not fix a broken school, as has been pointed out by so many posters here.

Charlie Mas said...

To often when the District wants people to do something they try to push them into it. It would be far more positive and effective if instead they tried to pull them into it.

Example: The District wanted to increase participation in the Spectrum program at Denny. Their action: they discontinued yellow bus service for West Seattle Spectrum students to Washington.

This was typical in a number of ways. First, it wasn't effective. The Spectrum program at Denny has not grown. Second, it didn't change anything; the West Seattle Spectrum students can still ride the yellow bus to Washington. It's the same bus that the APP students ride; the Spectrum students ride it on a "space available" basis. There is, of course, always space available.

The only net result was the further alienation of the Spectrum community.

Why, if the District wanted to increase participation at Denny-Spectrum, didn't they try any sort of positive recruitment? An even better question, however, is why is the West Seattle middle school Spectrum program located at Denny instead of Madison?

Anonymous said...

I think one very positive thing the district did to attract families to Denny was to put Jeff Clark there as principal. He is very popular among families and has a proven track record at Salmon Bay.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, you say the principal determines the culture of the school, and I do agree with you on this. However, principals are moved frequently by the district, and voluntarily. They also retire, and move into central admin. When these vacancies come up, surely the majority of the school will have some say in the hiring of the new principal, and I'm sure the district will consider which principal would be a good match for the schools culture when they make a selection. Things do change. I agree with you that it takes a lot, and it is slow, but things do change to suit the majority, eventually.

Roy Smith said...

When these vacancies come up, surely the majority of the school will have some say in the hiring of the new principal, and I'm sure the district will consider which principal would be a good match for the schools culture when they make a selection.

I have heard rumblings that the AAA community (to cite just one example) might not agree with this assessment.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm with Roy; parents have some role in principal selection (although not always) and the superintendent decides. It is not always a decision parents support.