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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Spectrum and the Assignment Plan

I'm becoming anxious about the new Student Assignment Plan. The Board has approved the framework, but the framework has yet to address the controversial issue that it needs to address: Spectrum.

Special programs like Spectrum are mentioned twice in the introductory paragraph for the new assignment plan. One of the plan's goals is to "provide equitable access to programs" and one of the plan's requirements is the "careful and intentional location of specialized programs". Despite the focus in the charge, there is scant mention of specialized programs within the framework.

This is a very tricky problem. There are three types of considerations to be balanced.

First are the academic considerations. A Spectrum program needs a critical mass of students to form a viable learning community. To be strong, an elementary Spectrum program needs to have at least 80-100 students. The Manager of Advanced Learning told the Board Student Learning Committee that a middle school Spectrum program needs a critical mass of 180 to be viable. There are a number of programs, both elemenatry and middle school, which are not nearly big enough to function well. If the elementary clusters are broken up into mini-clusters, will there be a Spectrum program for each mini-cluster? And if there is, won't that splinter the critical mass of students and preclude effectiveness? Or will some Spectrum programs reach across mini-clusters to bring together enough students to make the program effective? Similarly, when the middle schools each have their own reference area will they each have to offer Spectrum or would it be more effective if some of the schools pooled their Spectrum students to gather the necessary critical mass?

Next are the operational concerns. If the an elementary school is going to have 100 or 120 Spectrum students, when the District "right-size"s the school's reference area, they will have to take that into consideration. Lafayette may have room for 416 students, but if the District must allow for the possibility that there could be 140 Spectrum students there, the reference area shouldn't have more than 276 non-Spectrum kids in it. The District better think hard about where these programs are going to be, because if they set the reference area for Lafayette small to allow for Spectrum, but then they relocate the Spectrum program, they will need to reset the reference area. Similarly, they won't be able to move a program to a school without adjusting the reference area to account for the set aside seats. If one Spectrum site is going to serve more than one mini-cluster or middle school reference area, will the District provide transportation out of cluster or region for Spectrum? And what will the District do when a Spectrum program fills up? Once Wedgwood has filled their fourth grade Spectrum class, where will the next Spectrum student in that cluster go to school? Will that student not have access to Spectrum? Will the student have access to Spectrum in a neighboring cluster without transportation? Or will the District provide out-of-cluster transportation for that student for Spectrum?

Then comes the political considerations. How will people respond to the idea that a neighborhood reference area is shrunk to allow set aside seats for Spectrum? How will people respond to out-of-cluster or out-of-region transportation for Spectrum? If the District doesn't consolidate clusters for Spectrum and gather a critical mass of students, then they will not be able to provide equitable programs - no more than they are today. They will not have solved the problem they are trying to fix.

Finally, before any of this goes any further, will the District relocate the Spectrum programs that are not proving effective? The Manager of Advanced Learning told the public and the Board that she would close Spectrum programs that couldn't attract enough students to form a viable program, but she just left the position in the same year that she was supposed to fulfill that commitment. Will the incoming Manager of Advanced Learning feel obligated by his predessesor's statement?

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Since the issue has not been addressed yet,there really is nothing to worry about, at this point, right? Perhaps they don't have any plans to change Spectrum? Perhaps that is why it has not been addressed?

This is, however, probably a good time to give your feedback, in hopes that it will be considered when and if they do propose any changes.

Charlie Mas said...

All of the work done so far on the new Student Assignment Plan has been good, but it has been easy. All reasonable people would agree on what they have decided so far. The next steps, including decisions about Spectrum, will be the first parts of the plan that will cause real disagreements.

There is no single elementary school's reference area with enough Spectrum-eligible students to form a viable program. So strong Spectrum programs will need to aggregate students from a number of school reference areas.

Every seat in a school that is held for a Spectrum student from outside the reference area is a seat in that school which will not be available for a neighborhood student. The school reference area, in order to be right-sized with the capacity of the school, will have to be adjusted with the knowledge that Spectrum is in the school.

Since altering a school reference areas is a big deal, wherever the District places the Spectrum programs through this process will become their near-permanent locations. The simple fact is that some of the schools which now have Spectrum are not doing well with it. The programs at High Point, Wing Luke and Leschi, in particular, are not proving successful at attracting students. The same could be said for the middle school programs at Mercer, Aki Kurose, and Denny. So the first controversy will be the placement of the programs. It will be controversial even if the placements are not changed.

In addition, if the number of elementary school clusters increases, then won't the number of elementary Spectrum sites increase so there will be one in every cluster? That will also be a tough decision.

If they decide to designate a Spectrum school in every mini-cluster and at every middle school, then some of the programs will be doomed to be too small to ever be strong. If they don't, then they will have to provide out-of-cluster transportation for Spectrum students, which they have never done before, and they will have to do it at a time when they are shutting down out-of-cluster transportation for everyone else. Moreover, there will be the appearance of inequitable access if some students have to travel very far for the program.

Spectrum will have to change. There is no possibility that it will remain as it is. Moreover, it would not be good for it to remain as it is because Lafayette and Washington have the only working Spectrum programs south of the Ship Canal, and they are both full.

When people in South Seattle complain about the lack of "quality programs", what do you think they are talking about? Particularly at the elementary and middle school level, they are talking about Spectrum. Nobody says "Spectrum" because the culture at Seattle Public Schools is so strongly antagonistic towards Spectrum and APP, but where the framework says "quality programs" you can read "Spectrum".

Real Spectrum is a self-contained program. It is a classroom in which at least half - if not all - of the students in the room were identified by the District as Spectrum-eligible. That's how it is at Wedgwood, at Viewridge, at Whittier, and at Lafayette. That's how it is at Whitman, Eckstein, Hamilton, and Washington.

In the middle schools, there are only two ways to provide something close to a self-contained Spectrum classroom. One is for the Southeast Initiative to pay for self-contained classes at Mercer and Aki - even if it means there will be very few students in the classes. Seriously, less than 20.

Alternatively, middle school Spectrum students from West Seattle and Southeast Seattle could all be gathered together at Mercer, so there will be enough to form a strong program.

Either way, it will be a tough decision for the District and there will be an animated discussion of the pros and cons, but to do anything else would be to fail in the stated goals of the Assignment Plan.

Anonymous said...

"There is no single elementary school's reference area with enough Spectrum-eligible students to form a viable program."

Charlie, where did you get this info.? Has the district formed the new reference areas yet? If so, I haven't seen them, can you direct me to where I find this info.?

Thanks

Charlie Mas said...

It takes at least 80-100 students to form a viable elementary Spectrum program. There is no school reference area - not now nor in any possible reconfiguration - with so many.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, how do you know it will take 80-100 students at an elementary school to form a viable Spectrum program?

Charlie Mas said...

That's what District staff say. That is the critical mass necessary to form a viable learning community. The manager of Advanced Learning told the Board this year that middle school programs require at least 180 students as the critical mass necessary to support a viable program. Size matters.

Moreover, 80-100 is the number of students required for an elementary school program to be perceived as viable by the majority of the community. Smaller programs are not regarded as equitable to the larger, stronger programs. This is commonly mentioned among the inequities between schools in the north and the south.

Each of the smaller programs, except High Point which did not seek re-certification, has identified the size of their program as a deficiency and an area in need of improvement. The schools know that they need more students to have a better program.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm not sure I agree with Charlie's assessment of what "quality programs" mean in the south end. He says it is Spectrum. I don't think that's what pops into people's head in the SE. I think they want strong programs like John Stanford and TOPS and have a mistrust of gifted programs. My experience is that many SE parents believe Spectrum has few minorities (other than Asians) and they don't understand what the benefits would be to their kids.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm not sure I agree with Charlie's assessment of what "quality programs" mean in the south end. He says it is Spectrum. I don't think that's what pops into people's head in the SE. I think they want strong programs like John Stanford and TOPS and have a mistrust of gifted programs. My experience is that many SE parents believe Spectrum has few minorities (other than Asians) and they don't understand what the benefits would be to their kids.

Anonymous said...

Some of our top performing schools have no Spectrum. I think of schools like Bryant, Laurelhurst, Haye, Coe, Olympic View, just to name a few.

I don't know if everyones perception is the same as Charlies, IE when everyone complains, they are complaining about a lack of Spectrum programs. Granted there are a few programs in S. Seattle that perform adequately like Charlie oints out (Maple, Kimball etc), but they are few, and they are merely adequate. They are not equal to the very strong programs at Bryant, TOPS etc.

So perhaps just some strong, high achieving programs are what some are looking for. There is a start with the New School, and south East initiative. It's a start, and I want to give the district this chance to work in the right direction, instead of tearing apart every move they make. It will be complex and they will face challenges, but they ARE MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION!

Anonymous said...

I believe that I would only feel that spectrum was necessary if my child was not being challenged in his or her classroom. I would want my child pushed to their potential. Some schools do an excellent job of doing this (teaching to different levels). My guess is some do not. I think there are a lot of people at Bryant, for example, that don't feel it is necessary to transfer their child out of the school for spectrum because the school is providing a high level of education. On that note, I do know a couple families who transferred to Wedgwood from Bryant for Spectrum, but I believe they wanted a smaller school as well and Spectrum was a way to get them into a smaller school.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, only 40% of Seattles student body is Spectrum eligible. Is this 4% the people whom you refer to in SE SEattle who are complaining as to the lack of quality programs? I would beg to differ. I would guess that the other 96% of families just want high quality programs that challenge their children. Apparantly as good as Kimball and Maple are doing (to be commended) there is still a sever lack of high quality programs in S. Seattle. Bravo for the initiative.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me big typo above. Only 4% of Seattle's student body are Spectrum eligible, not 40% as I posted above. Sorry.

Charlie Mas said...

I won't bother with the difference between a program and a school (is Kimball a program?), because it doesn't matter.

Nor does it matter how many people may be interested in Spectrum or how deep the interest. Their interest may not be a self-interest. I live in southeast Seattle and I'm interested in Spectrum despite the fact that my children are not in it.

None of those things, no matter which way you see them, alters the fact that the District will have to address Spectrum in the new Assignment Plan and they will have to address it from the beginning, not in some second stage scheduled for the vague "later".

Spectrum has to be considered when determining the size of the reference areas. The District needs to decide how many programs they will have, how big those programs will be, and where they will be BEFORE they set any reference areas.

As part of that decision, the District will need to decide if they will provide out-of-cluster transportation for elementary Spectrum students and out-of-reference area transportation for middle school Spectrum students.

No matter which way they decide, there will be people who are not happy with the decision.

Should the District continue to have Spectrum at Mercer and Aki Kurose when neither program has as many as 40 students in it? Why does the southeast region have two programs for 70 students while the Central region has one program for 180 students (with a waitlist and a hard ceiling at 180)? Why does the staff say that dividing the program at Washington would destroy it, but they want to continue to maintain two small programs in the southeast? Why does the Program Placement Committee say that the programs should be close to where the students live, but the middle school Spectrum program in the West Seattle region is at the school further from where most of the students live?

Perhaps it is all part of needed Program Placement reform and not specific to Spectrum.

Finally, I am trying not to respond to negative anonymous posts, but the suggestion that there is anything written here which is not supportive of the District's work or which represents tearing anything apart it simply absurd and a feeble effort to distract people from the primary point.

Anonymous said...

"Why does the staff say that dividing the program at Washington would destroy it, but they want to continue to maintain two small programs in the southeast? "

Ah, last I checked, staff did want to divide the program at Washington, it was the parent community who disagreed.

As to why Spectrum at Denny and not Madison, Denny is also going to be starting the IB track paired with Sealth. Madison does not have Spectrum as a building based choice.

Charlie Mas said...

Anonymous at 7:11 is mistaken.

It was not Spectrum but APP at Washington that the staff wanted to divide and they couldn't do it because it would have been a violation of District Policy D12.00 which precludes any increase in the number of self-contained APP sites unless there is a significant increase in districtwide enrollment. Districtwide enrollment, as we know, has been falling.

While "the building" at Madison, which means the principal, may have input on Program Placement, the needs of the District and the students should take priority over the preferences of the principal.

What if Madison made a building based choice that they didn't want special ecucation programs or bilingual programs? Who would stand for that?

Anonymous said...

It was my understanding that Jeff Clark (former Principal of Salmon Bay), along with the VP of Salmon Bay were moved to Denny to get the Spectrum and IB program off the ground and running. I heard that JEff was doing a fabulous job with Denny, and wish him well. He is certainly a great leader and has a fantastic track record for getting the job done, and really reaching the kids.

Anonymous said...

Charlie-

You write "What if Madison made a building based choice that they didn't want special ecucation programs or bilingual programs? Who would stand for that?"

In your review of the program placement mintues, did you find any instances where a principal refused to have one of these programs?

Charlie Mas said...

The minutes of the Program Placement Committee meeting of October 17, 2003 makes reference to smaller secondary schools refusing to accept Special Ed and Bilingual students. Cleveland and the Center School were named. The minutes say "Dr. Rimmer noted that the issue of school picking and choosing what students they accept is part of a discussion she needs to have with Teaching and Learning staff."

There is a mention in the November 14, 2003 minutes about how the Special Ed assignments were driven by where there was space available "rather than considering where the program would fit most effectively. At the present time, we are attempting to place programs in schools where they fit - both with the school and with the program flow. However, space remains a consideration in many cases".

In my review of the Program Placement Committee minutes, it was very clear that principals refused to accept Spectrum programs. On September 5, 2003, the Committee recognized that to relieve overcrowding at Washington, they could have moved the Central region Spectrum program to Meany. At their following meeting on September 12 they concluded that this was the only realistic solution. The principal at Meany rejected the plan. In the face of that opposition, the Committee then concluded that Washington could hold as many as 1150 students and was, therefore, not overcrowded.

Every principal in the West Seattle-South cluster apparently refused to accept Spectrum, but Cothron McMillan, the principal at High Point wanted it, so the Committee put it there despite the fact that it was a horrible placement for a long list of reasons.

The meetings with the principals (in which these assignments were discussed and decided) were not part of the Program Placement Committee meetings. Instead, the tasks of deciding these things were assigned out to those meetings from Program Placement and the results of those meetings came back and were adopted by Program Placement.

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