Friday, September 28, 2007

Cleveland High School Remodel

After a full school remodel and millions of dollars spent, Cleveland High School is now paying additional money to bring in lockers, which weren't part of the original design.

Read Nina Shapiro's article in the Seattle Weekly: $67 Million for Cleveland High and No Lockers? for details.

I'm bothered not only by the waste and poor planning, but also by the fact that Cleveland High School (and I guess by extension the Seattle School District) are so quickly giving up on the four academies small-school design put into place only a few years ago with Gates Foundation money.


Melissa Westbrook said...

There is so much I could say to this but I will just comment that if you pour over any Design Team meeting minutes for hours, you'll see lots of this weird stuff. I remember someone saying that I was wrong about the Alumni Room and extra kitchen for the PTA at New School.

Roosevelt also has a shortage of lockers (note to future students: no lockers for seniors, sorry). See, our school that was built for 1600, has about 1740 and who knows, we could likely stuff in a couple hundred more. Will it be the same great school? Not on such stretched resources. And the lockers are only the tip of the iceberg.

Beth is right about the programs. They come and go on a whim and yet oddly, poorly performing programs like AAA hang in there.

Dan Dempsey said...

Many Schools in Urban Areas were purposely designed without lockers and remain so.

Cleveland's design without lockers, was probably the plan and not an accident.

Who decided to not have lockers?
Who decided lockers are now necessary?

And the next mandate will be?


Anonymous said...


Why do you think the small-school academies were a good idea in the first place? Why not give up on them if they're just another educational fad?

WenG said...

Is it a common practice for districts to win grants and foundation money, then turn around and threaten or abandon the programs targeted for support?

Anonymous said...

And it's not uncommon for rich people to dream up a great, new idea, like "small academy" and then expect the public schools to implement it for a grant. You know, "It worked great Lakeside". Then, pull the funding because something isn't implemented exactly as they wished. It's the downside to private public "partnership". Reform de jour.

Anonymous said...

You all are missing the point, there are barely any students at Cleveland and this district overspent on an empty school with poor leadership, no vision, no expectations for improvement, and no focus for improving the teaching and learning occurring in classrooms. Forget the lockers, Cleveland needs a student population first. The school is already virtually empty.

Anonymous said...

I agree! This district closes schools and then rebuilds at an enormous cost a school that is unable to attract teachers, leadership, and students. What are you people in the district thinking?!

Oh, but the district is not thinking. It has safety issues going on that it never thought to report and Melissa and Charlie are completely ignoring that most important news article that came out. So when is the district going to build accountability into its own leadership. Safety and security of students is the first and most important charge of the district. Kids cannot learn if they are affraid. Once our kids are safe then education can take place. How is it that we continue to hire superintendents and leadership in central administration that are clueless to what is going on in the district? We have yet another failed leadership, clueless superintendent, inappropriate senior leadership in this district and a board that is doing nothing to change their bad decisions about leadership.

Melissa Westbrook said...

No, I'm not ignoring the safety issue. I'm planning on writing about it but again, this isn't my job. It takes time and effort to track down information and try to present it in a coherent fashion.

Anonymous said...

anons at 7:36 and 7:45 - it sounds from your comments as if you think change and improvement is supposed to happen instantly.

The whole point of the SE initiative (and the rebuild of Cleveland) is to invest in south end schools so that families will feel confident in enrolling their children there. If the school is currently very under-enrolled, give people credit for not enrolling their kids on the basis of a new building alone.

7:36 says "...Cleveland needs a student population first" = but I think it's the other way around, and "If you build it, they will come" isn't just about the building - it's principal, ass't principal, teachers, AP courses, classes in general, etc.

I'm not a district apologist, but come on - the sup't has been in place for about 3 months, the CAO a year and a half, new Chief Operating Officer hasn't had the job more than a couple of months, they're without a Chief Financial Officer - and that's just the senior leadership at the district - there have been more changes at lower levels, as well at the school itself - including the principal Donna Marshall who left right before school started.

There's the SE initiative and more focus on the south end than there's been in years - it would be great if you give the changes a chance to settle and the initiative a chance to work.

It's true that good news isn't always very newsworthy or interesting, and the main bloggers do a pretty good job of balancing the positive, the informative and the critical (especially Melissa), but but sometimes it seems as if this blog is mostly about slamming the central admin - which doesn't really do anyone any good.

If you wanted them to occasionally read this and get something out of it - maybe change for the better - I'd guess they've mostly written it off by now because it's so relentlessly critcal.

Anonymous said...

Cleveland is getting a student population, I understand they have 70 or 80 more students this year than last.

A new building, plus the additional financing, are supposed to make Cleveland an attractive choice. I agree that a change in leadership may also be in order, but the principal left because of an illness in her family days before the start of school. By then, it is too late to hire someone fabulous, and you have to make do until the spring when there is a chance to hire from a real pool.

Anonymous said...

No SE initiative will ever be sufficient to change families or discriminatory attitudes. Yes, there needs to be nice, new school buildings in the SE. Yes, district could put great teachers at Cleveland. But, I'm sure the teachers there ARE already as good as those anywhere. Yes, the could put AP classes there. But I'm sure none of you would select Cleveland even if they did. What you're objecting to, is the students, and that won't change.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps at this point families are objecting to the students at Cleveland. Under achieving students at an under enrolled school. The families that allow their children to attend Cleveland as it is today are not families that demand a high performing school with a rigorous, challenging curriculum and a wide variety of AP classes. The families in the SE that demand a high performing school go north, test into APP, home school or if they can afford go private. However, as Cleveland starts to turn around and become a higher performing school with attractive offerings, the students and families will change. It will attract back some of those families that value and demand high performance. As this happens more families will filter in, as it will be a more diverse school (not ethnically,please don't read race into this)

Anonymous said...

anon at 7:38

many of the families that don't demand AP are families that don't have a clue how the system works and how to game the system, therefore they are not successful at the system.

the kids who don't do well don't do well because they screw around instead of study. what is your bright idea for fixing that - let me give you a hand - come up with some fancy Ph.d studies and blame the teachers because the classroom and school is not like leave it to beaver, or, because it is not full of kids whose parents know how to game the system and are training their kids how to game the system.

sat 920

Anonymous said...

To anon at 9:20

Please describe the "system," as you see it.

And, how does one "game" the "system"?

just curious

Jet City mom said...

because it is not full of kids whose parents know how to game the system and are training their kids how to game the system.

I didn't graduate high school or attend a 4 yr college- so forgive me if I am not really familiar with the expression " gaming the system".

Is it "gaming" the system, to want your kids to have an education that will prepare them to participate in society and have the skills to acheive their potential?

Is it "gaming the system" to have as a priority, living in a community where like minded families spend money and time improving the opportunities for the areas children? Not just in the schools, but re: health care/parks & libraries?

If a clinic/park/school, doesn't have the neighborhood- community involved and supporting it- what does that say?

Are the families who live in undersubscribed neighborhoods "gaming" the system- when they apply for schools in neighborhoods that they perceive as "superior"?

Anonymous said...

"""many of the families that don't demand AP are families that don't have a clue how the system works and how to game the system, therefore they are not successful at the system.""""

If this is true (not sure I buy it) you have an entire school full of families that don't have a clue, thus don't demand AP or rigor so you wind up with a school full of poor performing students/families. Consequently with the high numbers of these families attending Cleveland, families who want a high achieving school are not interested in this program. Can you blame them??? So, in effect anonymous is right, we (families that demand a high performing rigorous school) do shy away from these students/schools. But again, can you blame them??? Who wants a bunch of under achieving kids as their kids peer group? Who wants a school with very little parent involvement (because they don't have a clue??), who wants an under enrolled school that doesn't have enough kids to get many services, who wants a school with no AP????? Who?? Only the clueless I guess.

Anonymous said...

Game the system to me (and I was not the above poster) are the tricks those with means pull to get into certain schools, i.e.:

Renting one bed room apartments on 65th to claim that as your address to get into Roosevelt when you really live in a mansion on Lake Washington.

Putting pressure on the District with threats of leaving for private school to demand that the capacity of Garfield, Ballard, and Roosevelt be raised to admit more students (this happened during the Steve Wilson era).

Manufacturing a discrimination lawsuit and taking it all the way to the Supreme Court when what was really wanted was a QA/Mag high school (that apparently isn't the Center School)

Making your pet issue the focus of school board attention to the detriment of moving forward initative that would help more students.

Hiring PR firms to help coordinate your influence on school closures and the student assignement plan.

I could go on if you would like.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous at 8:19, I ask you this. How many families do you think participate in this type of "gaming the system". It sounds like something very few people participate in, but when it happens, it gets lots of attention and publicity. It is certainly not the norm. We have attended 4 Seattle public schools over the course of 7 years, and I will say that I have never known or heard of anyone in our community partaking in any such activities as you described (and we were at 4 high performing well regarded schools).

I think the more common "gaming the system" involves doing your research, finding out your options, attending school fairs, living in neighborhoods that you perceive to have good schools, etc. Not the extreme measures that you mention above. Again, I'm not saying they never happen, I'm saying it is not common, at all.

Anonymous said...

@ 10:25 said, "But I'm sure none of you would select Cleveland even if they did"

"You"? I'm guessing you wouldn't put yourself in that category, so I'm wondering how you're certain there aren't other readers of this blog like you?

@8:19 said, "Hiring PR firms to help coordinate your influence on school closures and the student assignement plan."

Please describe this in more detail.

Note: gaming implies abusing the rules with intent to obtain gains or benefits you don't deserve or wouldn't have received if you'd followed the rules - 1 of your examples is that (false addresses), but the rest of them are just people using the skills or tactics they have at hand to get what they believe they need, not abusing the rules.

If you called the rest of your examples "gaming", you'd also have to label the Sakara Remmu et al performances at the school board meetings the same; as well as the students who protesting military recruitment; Chris Jackins who appeals district every construction project; and I can think of more, as well.

There are many who think those causes are just and any actions taken in their stead are entirely appropriate - and those who would define them as "making their pet issue the focus of the school board to the detriment of initiatives that would help more students."

It's all a matter of perspective.

I agree with 9:07 - based on my experience, the vast majority of people are working stiffs who enroll their kids in schools, make sacrifices for them and for the schools, follow the rules, and live their lives.

Perhaps their only fault is not putting all children right up with or ahead of their own - and a lot of times that's because they just don't know that not all parents can or will give their kids the same attention or advantages - and that so much more is needed for them because of that (and I don't happen to agree that Sakara Remmu tactics are it.)

Anonymous said...

Any time you have a system that's difficult to navigate, it will grossly favor those who are better informed and able to put more time, more energy, and more chutzpah into their choices. Note: this is not the same thing as saying it is a GOOD system for those who have more time, energy, etc. It's a poor system for everyone, but some can get around its deficiencies better than others. The way to make it better for EVERYONE (this is NOT a zero-sum situation) is to make the system easier to navigate.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

Anon at 8:19, your examples of gaming the system are all examples of of utilizing your democratic rights. We have the right to ask for what we want. We have the right to advocate for causes we believe in. We have the right to bring a law suit if we feel that there is injustice (apparently the supreme court agreed). What would Seattle be like without these strong families fighting for their rights and the rights of others?? What would the district look like if there was no parent pressure??

The only think I can see on your list that is wrong is faking an address to get into a certain school. That is just plain wrong, and as I understand it, the district has a staff person whose job it is to find these cheaters.

You may not agree with the law suit, the pet issues, or the threat of affluent families leaving for private school, but there is absolutely nothing wrong morally, integrally or legally with one of these things. It is not gaming the system, and it is insulting to put these things in that category.

Melissa Westbrook said...

8:19, who hired a PR firm to coordinate influence on school closures? I, for one, would really like to know. I wasn't aware of this (nor did it seem like it was occurring during the process unless one firm told every school the key to salvation was matching shirts).

Anonymous said...

I'm sat 920

adults should do all they can and all they know how to do to take care of their kids.

in general, kids from affluent backgrounds do better in school because people from affluent backgrounds know how to make the system work, they know how the game works, and they frequently know how to game the system. Their kids pick up these very useful skills, and tend to be successful.

is that rocket science?

At the elite colleges - dim white kids
By Peter Schmidt | September 28, 2007


There are a lot of reasons why schools like Cleveland exist, and continue to exist. If we can't figure out what the system does to create them and allow them, and what we do to create the system, how are we going to fix it?

I happen to be someone who fell through the cracks and made the system work for me, anyway. I don't think that is a wise or sustainable or cost effective paradigm. Aside from the cost of a permanent underclass on society, the real cost to all of us is the wasted potential to create the next auto industry or ... organic bean sprout solar light bulb industry or ... who knows?

the real issue is that the system does not pay to address the issues caused by incessant screwing around instead of studying.

sat 920

Anonymous said...

How do you suppose we fix screwing around instead of studying? That is a responsibility that I lay in a parents lap, but for students who do not have the family support at home, I wonder..... what can a teacher, school or district do to curb student screwing around? This is a serious issue. I screwed around when I was in a lower income, inner city HS in NYC. It took many years to change my mentality and recover from the damage that a poor HS transcript and GPA does. I can't remember any teacher or the school getting involved at all. Thinking back, I don't honestly know what they could have done?

Anonymous said...

Can't speak to what was done during closures, but I know that the QA/Mag group who followed Tracy Libros from meeting to meeting on the SAP hired my friend's consulting firm to PR/"strategy" work.

Anonymous said...

For people who only think using a false address is "gaming the system" (and there is no dedicated SPS employee for ferreting out the liars, usually other parents figure it out and call Tracy Libros and her enrollment staff to report it), what about pushing for the overenrollment of high schools?

Melissa wrote above about concerns that Roosevelt's quality will decrease with streched reasources, do you think it was fair to the nieghborhood students who were already in these schools to push up the enrollment because people threatened to go private instead of to Hale or Ingraham?

Anonymous said...

What's fair to one is not fair to another. If you were a neighborhood kid who was pushed out you would think it fair to expand capacity. If you were a neighborhood student who was already in, you would think it unfair. In any case, fair or unfair, there is nothing wrong with parents advocating and asking for what they want. It is not gaming. It is pushing for what they think is right. The district has the ultimate say in what does or does not happen. Parents have the right to advocate for what they want. The same right one parent has to push the district to expand capacity at Roosevelt, another parent has to push the district to cap enrollment, and keep the numbers down. Neither is gaming the system.

Dan Dempsey said...

The problem remains covert decision making by mandate that ignores relevant data.

Until administrative edicts are replaced with intelligent decision making, we will continue to discuss a myriad of topics that all have the same cause.

The cause is centralized autocratic decision making. The public input process is a pathetic sham that exists only as a formality. The deck is stacked.

Helen S. said:
It's a poor system for everyone, but some can get around its deficiencies better than others.

Anonymous 7:45AM said:
I agree! This district closes schools and then rebuilds at an enormous cost a school that.... What are you people in the district thinking?!

Oh, but the district is not thinking.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data.

The SPS suppresses the relevant data because it gets in the way of more destructive uninformed mandates that will never bring about improved learning for all.

It took time and effort to find and present the data that shows the district has poorly served disadvantaged learners and others in mathematics over the last decade+. Then when presenting the data it is neglected and one of the poorest math programs is adopted (with zero rational support - only fraudulent presentations).

Look at West Seattle High School there is another zero data illogical mandate unleashed upon the populace by the Supt. & CAO. This move is particularly destructive and will have long term consequences, in that a school that is now effectively implementing project based learning and has narrowed Achievement Gaps for Black and Hispanic students (unlike what takes place in the SPS as a whole) is now being told forget.

The idea that the public needs to wait longer before taking action is hardly the case. Rather as Charlie has pointed out: What actions can be taken against these bullies who do whatever they like as there are no accountability or consequences?

Try reading through the Policies on the SPS website. Large portions of the policies are not only neglected but the district does the exact opposite of what many policies suggest.

The district operates via erratic responses to concerns. Better learning for all is hardly a guiding principle. It appears to get these SPS positions of leadership requires only determining the wind direction that comes from the powerful voices and facing that way.

See you next Wednesday night confronting the data deficient dictators.


Jet City mom said...

or students who do not have the family support at home, I wonder..... what can a teacher, school or district do to curb student screwing around?

Legitimate question
Which is why I have been advocating for ECONOMIC diversity- in schools

Students who attend a school where 80% students are free reduced lunch- even though perhaps they fully represent the ethnic groups in the district if not the city- are not going to have parents/guardians, with the same background or resources as if you had a student population whose economic background more fully represented the district/city.

Garfield and Franklin for example have several programs to support lowincome & /or minority students.

But it can't end at the school house door, we need to get more information to parents about how to support their students & provide support for parents who may find themselves without a lot of support with friends or family.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't define having the audacity to ask again when someone tells you no the first time as "gaming".

Gaming is a pretty inflammatory word and I think in most people's minds connotes dishonesty or fraud - and should be charged only with care (not just when someone gets something you didn't get, or that you don't think he deserves).

The address thing above is outright fraud - gaming is the following: in my old accounting firm they gave you a meal allowance if you worked over 10 hours and past 7 pm (for having to eat out downtown instead of being at home for dinner). Many people would work 10 hours, clock out at 7:05 afterworking straight through (no meal), go home (where they ate), and charge the meal allowance on their time report.

They figured they were following the rules - and the meal allowance was like some sort of hardship pay for working so much (though they were also being paid for their OT).

Following the letter but not the spirit of the rules is gaming.

Most everything else that isn't outright fraud is people feeling that someone else has power they don't - and imagining that everyone has the manual except them, which is sad because if we spent as much time figuring things out as we do imagining that someone else is trying to pull one over on us or get something we didn't get, we'd be better off.

@ 2:05 - are people who lobby with principal or district to have their child enrolled at Roosevelt or Ballard "pushing for overenrollment"? It seems like they're just asking for something they want which is to have their own child enrolled - not engineering a system change.

If when told "No, how about Ingraham?", they say "No thanks, I'm going to a private school" - it's the district letting them enroll that should be what's at issue - not the parent "gaming" the system.

And if the district decides it's in its own best interest for revenue, customer satisfaction, etc - isn't that a decision they get to make? And as much trouble as we have all had getting "what we want" from the district, do you really think there is anyone the district just rolls over for? (Though it seems we always imagine they're rolling over for someone else, just never us.)

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, the district can make decisions - for whatever reason - for their own best interest. However, when they continue to overfill schools and DON'T add resources, then it's not fair. You cannot expect a school to do more with less. And, the district shouldn't encourage people to try to bully enrollment to get in.

Anonymous said...

Using an address you have rented isn't fraud. Suppose I bought a dump near the school of my choice, and paid taxes on it... would you consider that fraud? I know people who have done this, been caught by the district, and then the district still couldn't do anything... because it isn't really fraud. All the schools are supposed to be equal, right? So claiming an address of your choice might be considered "gaming" by some, but it isn't fraud. Some people have more choice than others... and always have.

Anonymous said...

While renting an apartment in an area close to a school may not be considered fraud in the legal sense, it is certainly immoral. You basically buy yourself a spot at the school of your choice. That's unfair to the people who can't buy a spot for their kids. What next an auction? Seats going to the highest bidder. That's not what I want my tax dollars paying for. That is exactly what gaming the system is. It may not be illegal, but it certainly is slimy and greedy.

Anonymous said...

Residency is defined by where you actually live. If you and your child live in that apartment, that is one thing, but if you rent it to someone else or it sits empty while you really live in your LW waterfront mansion, you bet that is fraud. I know of at least two people whose children where removed from the Roosevelt roles for doing just that.

Anonymous said...

if we really thought this was a big deal would we still employ as a high school counselor someone who was fired from his job as coach ( not for the first time) who was found to have actually rented apts for families whose children he wanted cross district lines and play on his team?

If he thought it was a big deal, would he go in front of the community and tell them that the reason why his team was stripped of two state titles and required to forfeit all their games for the past four seasons because the people in charge were "jealous" of his teams success?

If he thought anyone would call him on it- would he state- as he did- that- "nothing came of it" ?
That it was found to be without merit?

Why should parents balk at falsifying addresses- when the districts own employees who do the above, continue to be on the public payroll?

Anonymous said...

The distric isn't willingly employing that person. He continues to profess his inocence, is suing the district, and SEA is supporting him. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

If I rent an apartment or buy a shack, and stay there once a week, I'm a resident. So what about my waterfront mansion? Lots of people have multiple residencies. No, the district does not win these, even when they tail people. (If somebody's stupid enough to rent it out... then they MAYBE would win). Personally, I have 3 homes... and have had as many as 4. Guess what? I get to choose the one I want for the purposes of the school disrict placements. And if I need one to get the school of my choice. I will have it.

Anonymous said...

... and then there's all the kids of divorced parents, with even more residences. Seems like a tough row to hoe for the district, if they were to try to ferret all that out. And if you have a residence... but later move, well, the district is committed to keeping you in your original placement. So you could stay somewhere for a month, then move (or move back). So, they're pretty much stuck. Few people go to that extreme, but it is possible. And has always been possible in all of these schemes.

Charlie Mas said...

I would like to take this conversation back to some of the things that were written by anonymous at 10;29PM.

There are schools, such as Cleveland and Rainier Beach and others, where the reputation was damaged (rightly or wrongly), and involved families stopped choosing the school. Without those families in their community, the situation worsened. Test scores fell, academics slipped a bit, discipline became a bigger issue. After those results, more families stopped choosing the school. And so, in a downward spiral, the situation worsened, causing involved families to go elsewhere, causing the situation to worsen.

Now Cleveland doesn't offer AP classes, so students who want AP classes don't enroll at Cleveland, so Cleveland doesn't have students who want AP classes, so Cleveland doesn't offer AP classes, and around and around it goes in a self-fulfilling, self-perpetuating cycle.

So how does the District break the cycle? I think that's what the Southeast Initiative is supposed to be about. The Southeast Initiative is supposed to pay for AP classes at Cleveland - even if almost no one is in those classes. This is the only way to break that cycle. It is unreasonable for the District to expect families to send their children to Cleveland on the promise of AP classes in the future. The classes have to come first. If the District wants to attract high performing students to Cleveland, they are going to have to make it an attractive place for high performing students.

There are a few paradigms at work here.

One says "If you build it, they will come." This is fantasy. Building it isn't enough; you have to advertise, promote, and recruit.

There are two perspectives on recruiting. Think of them as the Marine Corps and the Modeling agency. The Marine Corps accepts whoever volunteers and (over the course of 16 weeks) turns them into a Marine. The modeling agency only hires beautiful people; they don't create them.

Ivy League schools, for the most part, act like a modeling agency. The offer admission to those who are already the same type as their graduates.

So what is Cleveland's fastest road to academic respectability? To turn their current student body into high performing students, or to attract and recruit students who are already high performing? I suggest the latter.

Of course they should do whatever they can to enhance the performance of every student who walks through their doors, but they can't control the readiness and ability of the students who are coming to them from Aki Kurose, the AAA, and Mercer. A lot of the higher performing students from the neighborhood aren't at Aki Kurose. They were on the bus to Hamilton or McClure. And they will be on the bus to Franklin, Garfield, Ingraham and Hale.

So what can the District do, to recruit about 400 high performing students to Cleveland?

Anonymous said...

McClure? That isn't high performing! It's a dive equivalent to anything in the SE.

Dan Dempsey said...

Anon at 10:28 PM.

I suggest you go to

and look at 2007 WASL scores.

You will find McClure is better than Hamilton and the scores are most unlike AAA etc.

Please use some data if you think your statement has some basis in reality.

WASL data says your statement maligning McClure is unwarranted.


Charlie Mas said...

WASL Pass rates:

7th grade reading:
McClure: 61.8%
Aki Kurose: 29.1%
AAA: 18.5%
Mercer: 53.5%

7th grade math:
McClure: 53.8%
Aki Kurose: 15.5%
AAA: 5.6%
Mercer: 39.1%

7th grade writing:
McClure: 67.5%
Aki Kurose: 54.0%
AAA: 52.0%
Mercer: 63.6%

Anonymous at 10:28 not only lacks data, that person lacks any sense of what is going on in Southeast Seattle. You need to learn what is happening before you can suggest any means for improvement. It doesn't make any sense for the District to dump cash on the school without a specific plan for spending it. The Southeast Initiative money absolutely should not be spent on remedial classes. That money should be spent to provide advanced classes. That is the part of the curriculum that those schools are not providing. It is the absence of those classes that is causing the very families they need most to go elsewhere.

I have a friend who took a tour of Mercer and asked about advanced math classes. The principal told her that if her child wants or needs advanced math classes that the student should enroll at Washington - they don't offer them at Mercer. Mercer - purportedly - has a Spectrum program, yet no advanced math classes? How can that be?

Anonymous said...

I was wrong and the various anons who said renting is not fraud are right! Renting an appt is gaming (not fraud). i.e., following the letter but not the spiritof the rules.

I didn't read closely enough and was thinking of the people who use someone else's address, etc.

Melissa - what's "bullying"? If it's asking again when the district or the rules says no, I would not call that bullying. This is another one of those resource issues where we fight like crabs in a bucket when the bigger issue is the state funding (or the clarity and consistency of district rules and application).

Charlie - "building it" to me includes everything it takes to make it a viable program, including students - so I would include advertising, promoting, recruiting, etc in that definition.

To Charlie and Dan - thanks for the data on McClure.

Anonymous said...

Charlie's asks a great question....How do you attract kids to Cleveland, a historically low performing school?

I think families naturally want to be in their own neighborhood. People leave their communities only when they feel they do not have any satisfactory options. Thus, with the addition of a "good" school close by, people will come. The district will truly have to revamp this program, add a wide variety of AP classes and make this school so attractive that people will not be able to turn away. What can they do?? International language program like John Stanford, Tech Academy?? Something cutting edge. Then market the heck out of it. I think the community would come together and welcome such a place. I know I would.

This might even be enough incentive to get the district to invest in Aki and figure out what to do with AAA. The Aki/AAA students will perform when challenged. You see what the New School is doing. It works, it just takes the desire and investment.

Anonymous said...

sorry to move the thread back to gaming and addresses, but in the interest of full disclosure, I looked in the enrollment guide and the rules are more specific than I thought:

The following locations DO NOT constitute student/parent/guardian places of residence: owned, leased or rented secondary domiciles or other property, or places of business apart from primary residences, and addresses designed only for receipt of US mail.

I wonder if they have "primary residence" defined super-specifically somewhere, so gamers can't look for loopholes.

As you were.

Back to Cleveland - it would be great if SPS put some money into a statistically valid poll to find out what kinds of attributes would attract families, thus to have some data rather than anecdotal information or suppositions.

And that makes me think of the NYC incentives program (I think Melissa posted it on it) - $50 for going to a PTA meeting, $50 for going to a parent-teacher conference, etc...

I wonder how that would work here.

Melissa Westbrook said...

What's bullying you ask? Well, I've only been privy to one incident but it was:
-threatening to take one's child (and encourage other parents in said neighborhood) out
-threatening loss of funds to PTSA via fundraising (high end fundraising)
-threatening a person's job via using influence to higher ups in the community

Should I go on? We live in a world where some people with money/power have no problem exercising it. Remember our anonymous post:

"Personally, I have 3 homes... and have had as many as 4. Guess what? I get to choose the one I want for the purposes of the school disrict placements. And if I need one to get the school of my choice. I will have it."

There's a person with means and the ability to get what they want because of it. Should that person apologize for it? Nope but don't believe that there aren't people who know "people" who know how to bring incredible pressure on district staff and principals. Don't kid yourself that it doesn't happen.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying the bullying doesn't happen. What I SAID was it is not wide spread. Melissa just posted that she, with all of her involvement and activism has only been privy to one incident. I having been in 4 very high performing schools and have never known a person to bully in the way she described. Sure, I've known families that were not happy, and pulled their kid out and went to private school. That isn't bullying. I've known many parents that speak at board meetings about an issue they feel strongly about, but again this is not bullying. Again, I'm not saying Bullying doesn't happen, clearly it does. But how often? Is it often enough to spend our energy ferreting out the bully's? Let the handful of bullies out their bully themselves through their children's academic life. They can't buy themselves happiness, health, morals or integrity. These things are free!!!!

Anonymous said...

WASL isn't everything. QA families, who love their elementary schools, are pretty much displeased across the board with McClure. It's a hair splitting difference between those and Mercer's... not worth the bus ride. Further it supposedly has a Spectrum program, but you'd never know it with those WASL scores.

Anonymous said...

Yes Mcclure does look dismal. Horrible test scores, and a majority of dissatisfied parents. How does a school in such an affluent community, with high performing feeder schools such as Haye and Coe fare so poorly??
What's up????

Poor leadership? Alot of S Seattle kids that went to lower performing elementary schools? What gives?

Perhaps it's just middle school in general? It seems that with few exceptions, Seattle Middle schools are dismal. Even schools such as Whitman and Hamilton in North Seattle are mediocre at best. Eckstein does OK as does Salmon Bay, but even these schools are not great. They both have their issues.

What gives with Seattle middle schools?

We actually chose a Shoreline MS as we just didn't want to accept the mediocrity of Seattle middle schools. We love it in Shoreline. They seem to get it there.

Anonymous said...

>>> "Yes Mcclure does look dismal. Horrible test scores, and a majority of dissatisfied parents. How does a school in such an affluent community, with high performing feeder schools such as Haye and Coe fare so poorly??"

... because Hay and Coe aren't really the feeders. Dan and Charlie think those scores are just fine and dandy.

Anonymous said...

Charlie's kid went to Lafayette and then to the APP program (Lowell/Washington??). Somehow he seems to find schools with way above average test scores for his kids. No school with test scores in the 50 and 60th percentile for him!

Anonymous said...

Why would you huff and puff about somebody not knowing WASL scores?

Anonymous said...

The "Bullying" comment is ridiculous and belies very little real understanding of how the schools operate. Threaten to take your kid out? That's not bullying or gaming. It's "good riddance!" from the district. Won't donate? So what, it's a small hit... and one not worth dealing with for a "problem parent." I don't know of any school that cows to that one. Threatening people's jobs???... it's almost laughable with the unions in place.

The fact is, parents have very little leverage that rises to the level of bullying. This is a fact which has been the subject of endless posts on this and other blogs.

Anonymous said...

Yes, McClure does have higher WASL pass rates than AAA, Aki and Mercer. But, it is still a very low performing school. It's the difference between bad and worse. We need good, no great schools in Seattle. Mediocrity is death.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ya know, I noticed in the last couple of comments that people have decided - once again - to make belittling remarks towards Charlie and myself. And, of course, it by "anonymous" people.

If you want to do this, have the courage to sign your name. Don't hide behind your computer.

Anonymous said...

Just looked at Charlie's posting of WASL scores for AKE, AAA and Mercer. How do schools like Aki and AAA stay open? How come the district isn't intervening? How and why would a parent choose this option for their child, when there is a choice system in place?

This is truly an outrage. Why are we putting up with it? Where is our leadership?

Anonymous said...

"How and why would a parent choose this option for their child, when there is a choice system in place?"

That's what mystifies me. The whole choice system, which is supposed to lead to energizing competition and therefore excellence, seems to be broken at both ends. No one seems to have the extra oomph to spend on competing, and almost no school is allowed to quietly go out of business.

I actually had an Australian guy tell me the other day that where he lives, a vibrant private school scene has been the best thing for the public schools, because of the competition. Well, we've GOT such a private school scene here, and competition within the public schools to boot. In the case of higher education, it's great -- no one thinks it's bad to have multiple colleges and universities here. But that's not apparently the case with K-12 education.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

The first ingredient needed to create a school that attracts a diverse population of parents and students is a highly capable principal. There are numerous examples within SPS of how a good principal has been able to effect growth and positive improvement in a school (look at the progress at Beacon Hill and Maple over the years - both schools with high proverty). The district needs to invest heavily in the development of leaders who will stay the course, hire teachers of high caliber and manage the change process in their school. They need the support of administrators about them and the union. Fix leadership, and positive change will happen. Put accountability in place for everyone with no excuses.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the strong principal/leadership concept, but I think it is just to late for Aki. Their reputation is irreparable, and they need to start over. They need to reopen with a cutting edge focus, such as a tech academy or International school. They need a very strong principal and a lot of district support. It can be done, but it will take a huge effort, funding and commitment.

Charlie Mas said...

The choice system has not worked in Seattle because no real competition was created. Competition has winners and losers, but the District would not allow a school to lose. According to the design, the schools that did not attract enough students in the choice system were supposed to be closed, re-invented, and re-opened. But the District didn't have the courage (or the energy) to do that. Instead, schools that did not attract students had students assigned to them. They were given another chance, and another, and another, and another. There was no accountability, no downside to failure.

There still isn't. Ms Santorno continues to extend the clock for the AAA. The school has a new principal, so we have to give the new principal time to turn things around. Then that principal will be replaced and there will be another new principal, and that new principal will get a few years to turn things around.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the "strong principal" bs. It's repeated so often it's a mantra. The average tenure of a principal in Seattle is 5 years. Not long enough to prove that they make one whit of difference, one way or the other. This claim isn't data based. My own experience has been, they are pretty much irrelevant. The fact that somebody above agrees with the "concept", proves the point.

I can believe that a really bad principal could screw things up, however. (eg. Madrona)

Anonymous said...

I always laugh when I hear this principal is a "good business man." The same applies to choice. The schools AREN'T a business. No, you can't run them like one. They don't go "out" of business.

One way to make choice work, is to simply give everybody their first choice. You want a program, you get it. The popular schools and programs would eventually lose some popularity due to size and overcrowding... and presumably, the others would gain popularity with their nice spacious offerings and low ratios.

Charlie Mas said...

Some may express their dissatisfaction with the WASL pass rates at McClure. For families in southeast Seattle - the part of town we were discussing - the choices are: Aki Kurose, AAA, Mercer, Meany, Hamilton, and McClure. Hamilton or McClure may be unacceptable to you personally, but when this is the menu from which you must choose, they are better choices than the others.

In addition, no one on this thread described these schools as high performing. That was another odd note in statement by anonymous at 10:28:

"McClure? That isn't high performing! It's a dive equivalent to anything in the SE."

Why dispute a statement that wasn't made? And the supporting fact "equivalent to anything in the SE" is patently false.

Continuing to decry the low performance of McClure only offers further evidence that you have no idea about what is happening in southeast Seattle.

I never claimed that the WASL pass rates at McClure are fine and dandy. Again, I am astonished by the words that anonymous people put into my mouth. I only stated that they are better than those at Mercer and dramatically better than those at AAA and Aki Kurose. Which they are.

As for where my children go to school, it simply isn't relevant. I'm kind of surprised that anyone would think that it is. This is a weird dynamic that I have encountered before. People are upset with me because my children are getting a good public education. Apparently I am responsible for the low test scores at all of the schools that my children do not attend. None of the people who make this argument ever stick around long enough and discuss it clearly enough for me to understand their logic. Would I be more credible if my children were enrolled at Aki Kurose? How is that? Are your children enrolled at Aki Kurose? If not, then don't you lack credibility as well? It's a goofy line of faulty logic and it doesn't matter.

What does matter, is that I live in Southeast Seattle and I know what is happening there.

Charlie Mas said...

What really matters is that I am asking: What will it take to fix this?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I wonder what are WASL scores at McClure is FOR IT'S END RESIDENTS? I bet they are as bad as anything in the SE. The pass rate at McClure is very poor for a high SES neighborhood, and the "passers" are probably confined to the neighborhood kids that remain in public schools. Additionally, people value other things besides WASL. But, yes IT IS a choice.

Too bad the "locale" statistic isn't available. That would answer at least one question. Is McClure better (WASLwise) than SE middle schools for SE residents? probably not. Sorry Charlie, the facts we need aren't available. At least not easily. I'm sure the school district could figure it out... but would never tell anybody.

Anonymous said...

Where is the responsibility of the parents in all of this mix??? I hear a lot of blame on the schools, on the district, on the principal, on funding, and on and on and on.

What about the parents?? What about the children??

How much can we expect a schools to do?? They are not miracle workers. They are not social workers. They have to work with the hand they are dealt.

In my opinion it would take more than this district is offering to really make a difference for these students. The New School is doing it, by way of private funding, but our district just can't fund these types of programs on their own. But they need to. If we start these kids in this type of therapeutic environment at pre school and continue this model of education all the way through HS, we just might have a fighting chance.

Without this, I feel it is just hopeless.

Charlie Mas said...

In the absense of facts, let's refrain from conjecture.

Again, if you live in Southeast Seattle, your usual middle school choices with transportation available are: Aki Kurose, Mercer, AAA, Meany, Hamilton, and McClure.

The issue is not whether McClure is a great middle school or not. The issue is not the home addresses of the McClure students who pass or fail the WASL. The issue is that Aki Kurose and the AAA have dreadful academic reputations. If these schools are ever going to have any hope of improving their reputations, they are going to have to take steps to attract higher performing students.

Here are the facts which are available:

Of the 634 students at McClure last year, 171 (27%) were from the Southeast region. Of those 171, 75% (128) were eligible for free or reduced price lunches. They were about half of the FRE students at the school. The WASL pass rates for 7th grade FRE students at McClure were 38.0% in the reading, 43.7% in the writing and 29.6% in the math. These pass rates are better than the pass rates for the whole school in reading and math at Aki Kurose and AAA.

Of the 724 students enrolled at Hamilton last year, 270 (37%) were from the Southeast region. Of those 270, 70% (189) were eligible for free or reduced price lunches. They, too, were about half of the FRE students at the school. The WASL pass rates for 7th grade FRE students at Hamilton were 35.2% in the reading, 38.2% in the writing and 27.5% in the math. Again, these pass rates are better than the pass rates for the whole school in reading and math at Aki Kurose and AAA.

It would appear that low-income students at McClure and Hamilton are doing better on these tests than the all of the students at Aki Kurose and AAA.

This certainly isn't specific to the students from the Southeast region, but I would say that this data would give someone reason to believe that the Southeast region students with higher academic achievement aren't going to school in the Southeast region.

Anonymous said...

I think the choice system backfires sometimes. Instead of using the choice system to find a school that matches r suites your child's personal academic needs, the choice system is used as an escape hatch for families to avoid under performing schools. When you look at Charlie's numbers above it is clear that many SE kids are escaping. That is fine. In fact I'm proud of them and their families for being willing to ship their kids across town to access higher achieving schools. My issue is with the system. AAA and Aki are obviously some of the lowest performing, under enrolled middle schools in the district. How can the district continue to turn the other cheek? Continue to give second chances? What will it take for the district to take action? When will they advocate on behalf of the kids whose families are not advocating for them?

Charlie Mas said...

I feel I must say again:

It is not the choice system that isn't working. The District isn't working the choice system. The choice system, as designed, included District intervention when schools failed to compete. The District, however, due perhaps to their commitment to site-based decision-making, did not intervene. On the contrary - the District propped these schools up by giving students mandatory assignments to those schools.

When everyone saw that there was no reward for success and no consequence for failure, the competition ended. Instead of schools competing for students, it became a competition between families for access to schools.

The fault for this failure of choice does not lie in the design of the controlled choice plan, but in the District's negligent implementation of it.

All of that, however, is water under the bridge.

All of the discussion about whether McClure is as good as it should be isn't the point of this conversation either.

The problems that we should be addressing is these:

1) What has to happen before families in Southeast Seattle will choose Rainier Beach, Cleveland, Aki Kurose, Mercer, and the AAA for middle and high schools?

2) What has to happen before these schools can educate students up to the grade level expectations and demonstrate that knowledge and ability on standardized tests?

I think the best source for the answer to #1 would be the people themselves. The District should go ask them. The question should be: what will it take for you to choose the referece public middle and high school for your child?

I hate to pass the buck, but I think a big part of the answer to #2 may lie in the elementary schools in Southeast Seattle. I don't know to what extent the Flight Schools project will make any difference along these lines, but the District had bloody well better do something. I also suspect that the District needs to provide some sort of aggressive intervention for students working below Standards in grades K-5, and I haven't seen it.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes you can't just roll over.
Sometimes you have to fight for what is right. Sometimes you can't give up.

It's not about Charlies's daughter. It's about the district not doing what they are supposed to do. Why should they get a "break". Why shouldn't a child (any child, not just Charlie's daughter) not get the credit that they worked hard to earn?

What does that teach our children?

How can anyone justify just letting this very important issue go????????????

Kick their behinds, Charlie!!!

Anonymous said...

But you still don't know, really, who or why anybody failed the WASL. It's entirely possible and even likely that the kids attending and failing at AAA or Aki.... would fail anywhere else. You can cry all you want about the "school" failing. Guess what? It isn't the school.

Charlie Mas said...

Umm... actually it is the school that is failing.

The WASL was written to assess the performance of schools and districts, not individual students. That's what it is for and that is what it does. The students aren't failing, the schools and the District are failing.

To say that the students would not be working at Standard no matter which school they attended is to say that the school has no influence over the students' academic achievement. If that's the case, then there is no such thing as school quality, is there?

If you accept that perspective, then McClure is no better or worse than Eckstein or Aki Kurose. There is no such thing as a good school or a bad school. They are all the same - mediocre.

Who's buying that idea?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're getting it! Or most of it. WASL isn't a great measure of performance, but is a resonably close measure of economics. Since a lot people value it, they will choose schools that are richer (to escape kids who are poorer). Duh. And if you can factor out almost all the poor kids... you'll get a really great education.

Anonymous said...

Ummm ... the KID is the one failing, the one who won't get his diploma. Right? The school will keep on chugging. It didn't fail.

Anonymous said...

Once again, I'm asking to please be civil in our correspondence with one another. The word, duh, is insulting and patronizing.

It seems like postings have been fairly polite, but now there is a new anonymous with a lot of foul, insulting words.

I would like to remind everyone that the blog is for the sharing of information. We won't always agree, but we must be civil and understanding in our interactions. Otherwise this blog is not going to be well attended.

Anonymous said...

Is "ummm" allowed?

Jet City mom said...

But you still don't know, really, who or why anybody failed the WASL. It's entirely possible and even likely that the kids attending and failing at AAA or Aki.... would fail anywhere else. You can cry all you want about the "school" failing. Guess what? It isn't the school.

My daughter did fail the WASL-
THREE times.
In math- which is her area of weakness ( she has a learning disability which affect computation)
She attended a school where she not only had B's in math, but she also theoretically had an IEP so that she could get extra support in math for one hour every day.( instead that hour was spent doing her homework from other classes & watching other kids get help)

She still didn't get more than a one on the test- yet the teacher assured me she didn't need summer school and she was doing fine.

SHE ( my daughter) told me, the reason why she didn't do well, was that she hadn't had the math that was on the test, in class.

We switched schools.
It wasn't her.
When she entered the 2nd school- she was TWO years behind in math- this school doesn't take the word of previous school, but tests everyone for placement ( similar to the community colleges)

She only had four years of high school and she wanted to be at least at grade level so that she could take college prep classes.

Two years later- she had not only done two years of math progress, but she had made UP the two years she was behind. Four years of math progress in two years.
Why couldn't her previous school had given her that instruction so she could have taken more appropriate classes instead of making up what she should have been taught in elementary and middle school in high school?

Yes I know we hear that when it counts they will pass the test & it isn't the school that is failing.

It must be nice to not be ashamed of what passes for an education in some classrooms.

This district is more uneven than anyone I have ever seen

Anonymous said...

To Class of 75, if I remember correctly from your previous postings your daughter started out at Summit. Unfortunately, alternative schools (with few exceptions) are just not doing their jobs. TOPS and AEII do OK, but the rest are so focused on their philosophy that academics seem to take a back road. My children attended two alternative schools and two traditional schools over their years in SPS. The difference in the level of academics was frightening. My child , an A+ student at his alternative middle school (Salmon Bay), had a hard time just keeping up and making C's when we transferred him to a high performing middle school. Alternative schools seem to pick and choose what they teach. They go into great depths on certain subjects and completely neglect others. Our child had a block Lang Arts/World Hist class in 6th grade, and his teacher decided they needed more Lang Arts, so she completely skipped 6th grade world history. Completely skipped it???? We also had a teacher that firmly believed writing was all about learning to be creative and felt like grammar and punctuation were irrelevant. All in all we felt that the alternative school experience was weak across the board. It wasn't event hat nurturing in the social/emotional way that the school promoted. As the kids got older, we began to see troubled kids expressing themselves in some very self destructive ways. Much less of that at the traditional school we transferred to. The majority of Kids seem to well adjusted there.

There is a reason that AS1 doesn't believe in tests/quizzes or the WASL. There is a reason Summit has an 8% pass rate on the WASL.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we too felt that the alternative school we attended was very weak in the academic area. We felt that much to much time was spent out of the class room. The older kids were reading buddies with the younger kids, which is great, and teaches some social responsibility, but takes the older kids out of their class rooms. Out of their learning environment. Kids went to camp twice a year, and again, this was a nice bonding experience, but took precious class room hours away from the kids. Couple that with a large amount of field trips, no science lab or science teacher, lots of "free" time, and an absence of behavior expectations, and it all added up to a very poor experience all around. Especially academically. We also found out children to be way behind and playing catch up for a couple of years after they moved on.

Beth Bakeman said...

Anonymous, I strenously disagree with your comment that "Unfortunately, alternative schools (with few exceptions) are just not doing their jobs. TOPS and AEII do OK, but the rest are so focused on their philosophy that academics seem to take a back road."

We are at Pathinder K-8 after trying several other well-respected traditional schools. And we are completely thrilled with the quality of teaching and learning that is happening there for our three children.

Not all alternative schools are the same. Not all children (and parents) want or need the same things from a school.

Anonymous said...

There are parents who will swear that attending an alternative school saved their child and others who find nothing good happening there. An interesting question would be, what were parents who chose and alternative and then left it looking for in the first place? What made them think the alternative school would provide the special something they thought their child needed? Personally, I think it's very hard to know, when selecting a kindergarten, what that same child may need 1, 2, or 3 years from now.

I agree with an earlier comment - maybe parents have just too high an expectation in assuming that a school will be able to meet all their child's needs.

Charlie Mas said...

It is difficult to respond to multiple anonymous posters. One of them puts the responsibility for academic failure with the student and writes that the student would have failed regardless of the school, then another (or is it the same one again?) shifts the definition of failure and links it to consequences rather than duties.

It's really easy to make up a name on the spot to facilitate discussion. Choosing not to use an identifier - even an anonymous one - indicates a preference for making discussion difficult. What sort of perverse pleasure could you get from trolling in this way?

Anonymous said...

I was looking for a school that supported my child's social/emotional growth and at the same time offered rigorous academics. I guess I was just asking for way to much. The sad thing is neither of these two needs were met. We found that the lack of rules and lack of enforcement for the few rules there were, coupled with fairly loose parenting, made for some pretty rude, self centered, and sometimes mean spirited children. Many families chose the school or transferred to the school because they feared their children would not make it in a traditional setting, usually due to a behavior issue or learning disability. When you have a disproportionate amount of these types of students (our school did) the classroom environment takes a sharp dive both on a social level and on an academic level. At the middle school level these children began to show a lot of self destructive behaviors. It was actually getting scary. As for academics, we are still playing catch up. The focus at our school was just not on rigor. The focus was more on inquiry and self expression. The school also inflated the grades. As long as the teacher felt you "tried" you got an A. Now that my child is in a traditional program where work is actually graded and there are tests and quizzes, we realize how very far behind and how much catch up we will have to do. How could they be where the traditional schools are?? They spent very little time actually in their classrooms and a whole lot of time hanging out and just generally goofing off. It was a mess.

Maybe the schools jsut didn't meet OUR expectations. Maybe their are parents out their who want their kids to have an easy ride? Who don't want homework? Who don't want true assessments, tests, quizzes? Maybe this actually works for some families? Not us.

I am speaking particularly of AS1, Summit and Salmon Bay.

Not sure about Pathfinder, maybe it is better than the rest? TOPS and AEII seem to hold their own too.

Anonymous said...

no more...

thanks for your comments. what alternative schools did you attend and when?

Anonymous said...

Beth, why didn't your kids do well in the "several well respected traditional schools" that they attended??

I am curious because this is what I mentioned in my earlier post, and this is what happened at our alternative school. In abundance. Many kids who didn't make it in a traditional setting (usually due to behavior issue or learning disability) came to our alternative school thinking it was a softer landing. And for some it was. Little homework, fewer rules, much lower academic expectations, etc.

I am curious as to your situation with your kids not doing well at several well respected traditional schools. If it is not to personal would you be willing to share?

Anonymous said...

Re Beth's "several well-respected traditional schools", I always shudder when I hear someone say or imply they've moved their children multiple times - sure, once can be essential if they're in the wrong place or if you've moved, or changed jobs, or something - but more than one time seems to be more about the parents than the child. It's hard to imagine that it isn't taking a toll - or creating an opportunity cost at best.

I know of a family where the kids have hardly attended the same school two years in a row, or with each other (when they could). Eek

Maybe Beth is including preschools, too.

Beth Bakeman said...

Nope, not including pre-schools. My daughters went to one school for kindergarten, a different one for first grade, and then finally Pathfinder for 2nd & 3rd grade where they will hopefully stay through 8th grade.

I am not an advocate of children changing schools frequently, especially since I am a strong believer in the value of community and belonging. But I also believe every situation is different and, unless you're part of it, it's hard to know and understand why it might have happened.

When I was considering changing schools, parents and teachers told me all sorts of things like "You're being unrealistic about what you can expect from a public school", "If you want theme-based learning and a place where the love of learning and discovery is emphasized more than test scores, you should take your kids to private school" and "You'll never be happy no matter what school your kids are at." But I couldn't stand having my children, who love learning, not enjoying school, so I had to do what I thought was best.

In our case, one of my two daughters had a major learning style/learning needs clash with the dominant teaching style and culture at the Kindergarten, and cried every day before school for the first seven months because she didn't want to go to school. The second school we chose knowing that it wasn't a great match for our family (for a variety of reasons I'd rather not explain), but we did not have other options in our cluster that seemed better and thought the closeness and ability to walk to it would make it okay.

When that wasn't a great success either (for both children), we finally decided to move our girls to Pathfinder. The school had interested us from the start because of the quality of the teaching, the strength of the community, and the clear, well-defined instructional philosophy. But living in South Seattle, we had wanted to avoid making the drive to West Seattle and back several times a day.

We are thrilled with our choice (although not the drive) and, while I wish we had started our older daughters in Pathfinder at Kindergarten, we now see our daughters thriving academically and socially.

I would tell any parent to do the same thing I did --- listen to your kids, take their concerns seriously, and if necessary when things don't improve over time, explore other options for schools.

Beth Bakeman said...

I just read the question from 'no more alternative schools' and want to answer that as well. You wrote "Beth, why didn't your kids do well in the "several well respected traditional schools" that they attended??"

I should clarify that according to every school measure, they did quite well. They excelled academically, they were well-behaved, they completed all their homework, they made friends, and their teachers enjoyed having them in class.

What I meant was they weren't happy and engaged in the learning and the community. What I want from a school is for it to challenge my children, academically and socially, helping them pursue their interests and passions as they build core academic skills.

I don't want to have my kids in a school where, for whatever reason, they don't enjoy being there and don't feel like they are learning anything meaningful or interesting.

My daughter who struggled the most in kindergarten with a curriculum that moved children through the same material at the same pace, now comes home excitedly reciting Shakespeare soliloquies. My other 3rd grader shouts "yes!" when she hears it's time for Writer's Workshop at school and spends time after school making signs that say "Poetry Rocks!" Extra time is given to finish a particularly exciting book or writing assignment. The children have voice in what they study, and their teachers are truly amazing.

My youngest, who just started Kindergarten this year, had never attended 5 full days of school in her life before, and yet has never once said she doesn't want to go to school this year. She has made many, many friends during her first month at school, including several children with behavioral challenges who she accepts completely and joins in celebrating their successes, as an amazing group of 24 kindergarteners beings to form their community.

This is my idea of a school that works for my children and my family.

Anonymous said...

"She has made many, many friends during her first month at school, including several children with behavioral challenges"

This is exactly what I posted in my above entry. alternative schools attract many more kids with behavioral challenges. This is an issue when the numbers are disproportionate. The classroom environment deteriorates. It is also an issue as the behavior is not addressed directly or firmly in alternative schools, and if these children do not receive intervention, as they get older, the behaviors become self destructive. I have witnessed this at our school and it is much more difficult to deal with in the teenage years than early on.

"Extra time is given to finish a particularly exciting book or writing assignment. The children have voice in what they study"

All of this freedom, leeway, and special accommodation does not do a child any favors when they move on to Middle and high school. All of a sudden they have firm deadlines, have teachers that will not accept late work, tons of homework, tests and quizzes, grades and report cards, and little voice in their assignments. My child was ill prepared for Middle school and is literally having to learn all of this stuff now. It is a tragedy really.

Roy Smith said...

Speaking as the parent of a child who is thriving in an alternative school (AS#1), I think that some of the features that make alternative schools great for some children are going to very poorly serve other children. What for some families is "lack of rigor" is for others an opportunity to learn more by being free to pursue their interests and curiosity.

I'm going to brag on my daughter for a moment: this summer, completely on her own initiative, she did quite a bit of supplemental math work that her teacher sent home over the summer. She also noticeably improved in her reading ability over the summer, with no parental coaxing aside from continuing to read to her on a regular basis. This year, as a first grader, she has decided that she is going to start an after-school art club. She has recruited a number of other students who want to participate and is working with one of the teachers at AS#1 who is going to help her, and now she is deciding what sorts of projects they could do. I don't think any of this would have happened if she didn't go to a school that 1) is a place she loves to go to, and 2) is a place that is willing to support her ideas and initiative. I would hope that the traditional schools can create this same love of learning and love of being at school and support for the ideas of children, but the anecdotal evidence at times is not encouraging.

I have absolutely nothing against parents who desire a traditional school for their children and for whom the traditional schools serve their needs well.

What I find discouraging is parents who have had a bad experience with alternative schools and consequently have the attitude that because alternative schools didn't work for them, there must be no value in them. On the other hand, some alternative school parents who have been burned by traditional schools are guilty of exactly the same thing, only it is the traditional schools they see as having no value. The strength of Seattle Public Schools is not that we have alternative schools, or traditional schools, but it is that we have both, and a wise parent can find the environment that works for their children.

Roy Smith said...

no more,

I have yet to find any evidence that alternative school students are any less prepared for high school than other students are, and I have looked as that is something I have been concerned about. There doesn't really seem to be any data regarding student achievement anywhere that is organized in such a way that one can draw any valid conclusions about whether alternative school students are adequately prepared or not for high school. I do know that a group of AS#1 parents have been working with the school district to try to develop some data. As I understand it, they are looking at things like 9th grade GPAs, high school drop-out rates, and participation in AP/honors/IB type classes and trying to aggregate that data in a way that a K-8 or middle school can be evaluated on its effectiveness for preparing students for high school. Right now, the district doesn't organize its data in a way that makes it easy to pull those kinds of numbers, and there are privacy issues as well, so I have heard it is slow going.

That all being said, the only thing we currently have to go on appears to be anecdotal evidence, and that isn't very helpful, because for all the stories I have heard about an alternative school grad who struggles in high school, I hear lots of stories about the great things that other alternative school graduates do in high school, college, graduate school, etc., not to mention the fact that some students that go to traditional elementary and middle schools and would appear on paper to be well prepared for high school don't do well at all.

Anonymous said...

I'm here to tell you that assimilating into a traditional middle school has been very tough for our child who attended alternative schools K-6.

He has had a rude awakening, as teachers give him assignments with deadlines that don't budge. He has had to adapt to a large amount of homework, and having his work evaluated and graded. He no longer gets an A+ just for effort, even though the quality of his work was sometimes well below his ability.

He formed bad habits at the alternative school which included not learning to challenge himself or work his hardest. He didn't have to.

Now if he turns in a paper with poor grammar or puctuation, it is graded accordingly, and it is returned to him to re-write. He is accountable. Now if he doesn't understand his math, he has to stay after class and ask his teacher for help, because he knows he has a test coming up which he will fail if he doesn't understand. He can no longer ignore the fact that he didn't understand something, and nobody noticing.

It's a different world at a traditional middle school, and boy am I glad he is learning all of this now, in middle school, when there is a bit more room for trial and error than in high school, when it really matters, and your GPA is at stake.

Beth and Roy, you are both right. Alternative schools do work for some families, and please don't get me wrong, I am glad they are part of our offerings. They just didn't work for our kid.

Anonymous said...

No More. . . and all: So are we DEFINING alternative schools to be schools that have no clear expectations of their students? Is that why TOPS and and AEII and maybe Pathfinder and possibly Orca haven't entered into this discussion?

I actually don't know if Salmon Bay and AS#1 have no clear expectations, this is based on No More's opinion--is there anyone out there to defend Salmon Bay? (Their test scores look lovely to me--but maybe that's their demographics?) Roy does a great job with AS#1. (It seems too child-driven for me but I'm glad it exists for the families who value it.)

I can't say how well TOPS kids do in traditional middle schools because we're K-8 so very few go and those that do left because TOPS wasn't a good fit for them.We have some of the top M.S. scores in the city for the kids who stay. From what I hear, TOPS kids do very well in traditional high schools.

Oh I forgot--TOPS (and AEII and Pathfinder. . .?) can't possible be DEFINED as alternative because it is not unsuccessful enough! Sorry about that!

Anonymous said...

As I said in a previous post, I am defining AS1, Salmon Bay, and Summit as having no clear expectations for their students. I think I clearly said above that TOPS and AEII might be the exception, and possibly Pathfinder?? I can't speak about them as I have not had a student attend them.

Here are some questions for you, Maureen.

Does TOPS provide the same type and amount of homework as a traditional school? Are assessments/tests meaningful, viable and tangible? If your child didn't really understand his/her assignment could s/he fly under the radar? How would the teacher know that s/he didn't master the concept? Does TOPS have flexible due dates for assignments? Can a child turn in their work late and still get credit (without extenuating circumstances)? Do they give an A+ just for trying and not base the grade on the actual work that the child turned in? Do they have clear behavior expectations, and enforce them in some practical way? Are they focused so much on creativity, especially in writing, that grammar, punctuation are not important? Are their disproportionate numbers of kids that have behavioral challenges or learning disabilities? Do the children have to work at their top ability, or can they do the minimum and still get a good grade?

These are some questions to ask. We were part of an alternative school for so long, that these questions were not even on our radar. It was just the way it was, until our child began a traditional middle school this year. Now we see the discrepancies. He truly is having to re-learn how to apply himself, how to hold himself accountable, and how to be responsible for doing his best work. No more soft landings, no more A+ for effort, not more excuses. Now it's all about the quality and calipur of his work, and he is rising to the occasion, and feeling proud of himself. I am proud too. I couldn't be happier.

Dan Dempsey said...


1. To Improve this school system will require the intelligent application of relevant data

This does not happen often as decisions that matter are made by autocratic centralized mandates that neglect the use of relevant data in decision making.

2. A large complex school system can not run successfully by ignoring relevant input and contributions from those actually doing the work of teaching and educating the children whether they be parents or teachers.

This is not to say that direction should be changed each time someone raises a concern. In fact the exact opposite should be true.

Well devised plans must be implemented which because of proper research and investigation can be defended so that these plans can be continued long enough to produce positive results and then continue. This is not to say fine tuning may not be required, but the scrap it and start over Seattle Style has not been successful.

3. Extremely poor curricular choices hamper schools especially those in the South end. Better curricula are desperately needed.

From AIR ( the American Institutes for Research ) –
Only three of the approaches examined--Direct Instruction, High Schools That Work, and Success for All--provide strong evidence that they positively impact student achievement.

There has been a widening achievement gap for Black, Hispanic, and Low Income students in math over the last ten years. This is true of both Seattle and Bellevue. A major reason extremely poor curricular choices.

Reform math is ineffective particularly for children who do not have access to outside school assistance in the form of tutoring or access to knowledgeable family and friends.

Here are the long descriptions for those who like reading:

First for Reform math which is responsible for the widening achievement gap and the US #18 international math position among 36 countries.

The “reform” faction may be characterized as aligned with methods first set forth by the National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM) in 1989. This approach features self-directed learning, group learning, many topics taught each year but never mastered and repeated annually until learned (Bruner’s concept of spiraling), and a greatly reduced emphasis on drill. Also greatly reduced use of traditional algorithms for multi-digit operations, use of calculators through the early grades, and algebra first introduced in the 9th grade. This latter model was the dominant curriculum in the U.S. during the 1990’s, and still is. Some early algebra was added to each grade in 2007, but it was not as aggressive as the algebra in the international curriculum. Also the added algebra further increased the large number of topics to be taught each year.

Next the International Math Curriculum used by the top performing counties in the world:

The “international” faction curriculum is derived from research and practice in the Soviet Union in the 1930’s and 1940’s. These ideas first spread to Poland and Israel, and eventually to parts of Europe and to Asia, including Singapore, Japan, Korea, etc. It features a greatly reduced number of topics taught in each grade, the integration of algebra with arithmetic starting in the 1st grade, early memorization of the multiplication tables aided by algebra methods, traditional algorithms for multi-digit operations, and lots of drill. Also fairly sophisticated algebraic concepts introduced starting in the 4th grade, demanding topics taught by the 6th grade, mostly direct instruction by the teacher, and no calculators (Schmidt et al. 2002). This is now the dominant curriculum of the six leading TIMSS countries. California is the only state incorporating an international curriculum into their math standards (Hook et al. 2007).

Next the traditional math:

The “traditional” faction generally believes elementary school math should be taught the way it was before Soviet Russia launched Sputnik7, the first earth-orbiting satellite, and thus before the advent of “new math”. This faction may be characterized as favoring topics taught in a linear fashion, early memorization of the multiplication tables by flash card methods and lots of drill. Also traditional algorithms for multi-digit operations, formal algebra first introduced in the 9th grade, direct lecturing by the teacher, and no calculators.

If South End schools are going to be significantly improved mathematically it will require the implementation of International Math i.e. Singapore and similar programs.

Seattle Plan is to:

1) Use an expensive proven failure Everyday math

2) Expensive coaching for teachers instead of smaller class sizes.

3) Ignore D43 D44 and D45 so a ridiculous number of topics is taught at each grade level. As teachers are told to use the EM pacing guide.

This EM adoption occurred though an autocratic mandate at an un-videoed
School Board meeting. The Elementary School Math Adoption .pdf file was posted for a few short time on the SPS web-site

on the performance of University of Washington academics in the current math teaching controversy in the state of Washington, the North American academic education community has not considered the international math curricula worthy of serious consideration.

Why you ask?
Follow the money.
NSF grants and publisher profits.

There is currently very little information available to anyone about the SPS math adoption without using the Freedom of Information Act.

My Comments in regard to this adoption action:

1) I have no idea what these multiple factors were that the Chief Academic Officer considered. A review of the factors presented to be positive shows them to be without substantive data in support of positive achievement.

2) There was never any data showing that this Everyday Math adoption would have a positive impact on students of color. The data from NYC was inaccurate in that not all schools adopted EM and that the additional new supports offered in all likelihood contributed to the small achievement gains.

3) The CAO ignored the international curriculum used by the best performing TIMSS countries. The CAO also chose to ignore Washington’s state-wide math failure announced by Dr. Terry Bergeson in August 2006.

The CAO was very aware of the Standards failure, as on January 17, 2007, I testified at the Seattle School Board meeting. At the following meeting in February, the CAO testified that Seattle would have no new math adoptions until further guidance from the state. According to Dr. Bergeson, the CAO received no new guidance from the state.

Instead the CAO chose the elementary school math curriculum most aligned with the failing Washington Math standards. The most aligned materials continue to fail many Hispanics and most students without assistance from tutors, or knowledgeable family members.

4) All of the relevant data I submitted was ignored. This despite the fact I am NCLB highly qualified in Math, have a degree in Math, am an education committee member of the NAACP and am a member of the State Board of Education Math Advisory Panel working with the consultant Linda Plattner on the revision of Washington’s defective math standards.

5) I have repeatedly asked for the Mathematics K-12 program manager’s academic qualifications, experience, and certification; never receiving an answer. Is she NCLB highly qualified to teach high school Math? Is she certified to teach high school math? Does she have a degree in mathematics? What is the highest level math course she has taught?

6) Despite the fact that the SPS has non-promotion policy for elementary school that speaks of defined necessary skills at each grade level, the CAO has yet to produce a list of those defined necessary skills. Instead of limiting the topics as suggested, the CAO chooses to have teachers follow the pacing guide for an ethnically discriminatory curriculum.

The HEIGHT OF ABSURDITY is the use of Everyday Math and Connected Math Project 2 at the African American Academy instead of Singapore Math or Saxon Math

Anonymous said...

To No More alternative Schools:

Like Maureen, I also have a kid in middle school at TOPS. The classwork is challenging, the kids are held accountable for due dates,
there are no "A's" just for effort.

In 6th grade they are reading
"Animal Farm" and learning the anatomy of movement - learning tasks have included writing, journaling, note taking, tests.

If they don't do well on a test they can work on answers and resubmit for more points, which makes sense to me because the whole idea is to learn the material.

Sounds pretty different to me from what some of you are describing at Salmon Bay and other alternative schools.

Anonymous said...

I recall reading an article recently where TOPS was on the top 10 list of schools with the least improvement over time. Flat WASL scores, that have NOT been improving.

Jet City mom said...

to look at TOPS- assuming we are using WASL as a model of how we know if a school is working or not ( which is debatable- its like using SAT to determine if a student is prepared for college)

Tops compared to AS#1 another K-8 school and to the district has
77% of students passing the 8th gd math WASL ( used because math is the area most students have difficulty with)

AS#1 has 26.3 % students passing 8th grade WASL ( OSPI does not show 7th gd scores for AS#1) and the Seattle school district has 49.5% passing.

So I haven't looked to see what may be impacting flat scores- I expect perhaps even though their pass rate isn't 100% they have other priorities- but 25% higher than district average is worth a look IMO.

Anonymous said...

Remember that Lowell shows up on the list of schools with flat scores too. That's because it's always around 98 or 99% passing. 100% isn't really realistic, but would a school that had 100% for several years in a row get dinged for being "flat" too?

I remember reading (was it Chris Vance's article?) that the WASL was designed with the idea that 60% would pass it, preventing the 40% who weren't at grade level from getting a diploma. I'm not saying I agree with that approach, but that's what the WASL originators expected. Given that, I'd say that TOPS scores in the 70s are pretty respectable.

There's more to life than Reading and Math. When a school's scores are very low, maybe they should focus on that. I'm not entirely convinced they should, but it's a reasonable approach. However, once the scores are ok, I think it's time to expend some energy on other things.

Anonymous said...

One of the things I find interesting in "No More Alternative Schools" description of her son's experiences is that they describe my son's experiences in a traditional school, prior to moving to an alternative school

In the traditional school he did the bare minimum of work, turned work in late, even failed to grasp material, and his teachers let it slide because they knew from talking to him that he was "smart." This was not the case for him in the alternative schools he attended, AE2 and Salmon Bay. He's now in high school and is very self sufficient, engages topics deeply, and does a lot of writing and critical thinking for his classes. He's a sophomore at Hale, which is calling of this out of him. (And we do have some degree of objectivity about his h.s. level work - his father is a university humanities professor, and has seen his work and has been engaged in debate by him, to the enjoyment of both.) We are pleased with the level of rigor he's experiencing at Hale, and which he experienced at AE2 and Salmon Bay.

Having said that, our younger child does his best work in a more traditional setting. Kids are different. Perhaps different methods of teaching and engagement call out the best in each of them.
I think it's really, really difficult to compare experiences and translate them into generalities. I'm grateful that our school district has different options, so that as parents we can make changes when something really isn't working for our child. Is it necessary to label schools (either traditional or alternative) as "bad," because they weren't the best choice for our child? I know I find it difficult not to feel defensive when people make blanket statements about schools, particularly ones that have worked well for my child. And yet, in my own experience, I know that the same school can produce completely different results with different children. As much as it would be more convenient to run my kids through the same school, it isn't proving to be the best case in for my family.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree, alternative schools do work for some children. Socially, the children that thrive are more often girls, and they generally tend to have a lot of self control, and are natural rule followers, and rule enforcers. The children who have the hardest time are more often than not, boys. Especially active boys that are still learning or having a difficult time with self control, as rules are few, and not often enforced. A lack of rule enforcement, coupled with children with less self control, is a recipe for disaster. This was the situation we were in. So were many many other families. The classrooms were noisy with a lot of movement and distractions. Due to the inclusive nature of the school there were many more special ed children with IEP's, and children with behavior issues.

Academically, the children that did well were the very self motivated kids, generally girls. If they were very motivated to learn and get their work done, they did well. That does not describe the majority of young children. Most need motivation. There was nothing to motivate these kids. No report cards, no grades, no consequences for disruptive behavior. Nothing. If your child is one of the few that gets satisfaction in a job well done, they would do fine in an alternative school. For the rest, it can be misery, with very very little learning happening, and poor habits being formed. There is also a safety concern. There were many injuries during the years we were in alternative schools. My child had two major injuries (needing an ER visits) during his alternative school career. Few rules, behavior challenges, and lack of supervision on the playground, led to many injuries.

Again, I will repeat that I am glad that alternative schools are an option for Seattle. They just didn't work for my kids.

Anonymous said...

"The children who have the hardest time are more often than not, boys. Especially active boys that are still learning or having a difficult time with self control, as rules are few, and not often enforced."

That's very disheartening to me. I'd have expected that alternative schools would go out of their way to suit such children *better* than more traditional, regimented schools. Certainly I know people who've chosen alternative schools for such reasons (not necessarily in Seattle).

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

The alternative schools serve these "active boys" in that they get away with much more. Their behavior gets worse, instead of better as they get older. They are never really taught to control themselves or their impulses. They don't get into trouble or have any consequences for their behavior. They are not held accountable, no principal office visits, no lunch duty. Nothing.

Is this really serving them?
Is it fair to them? Is it fair to the other students who want to learn in a reasonably calm and structured setting? Is it fair to the kids who gets hit, kicked or bitten by them? Is it fair to the teacher who gets called a bitch by them (I witnessed this)?

Anonymous said...

Can you comment on the relationship between the International Math Curriculum and the "New Math" that was taught in parts of the US during the 1960s and 1970s? Your description of International Math sounds very similar to the New Math I had.

I went to school in California, class of 1986, and I had New Math. My class was the last class that had it. I loved it, and I remember that kids who were good at math, and whose parents had college-level math experience, did very well in it.

A great deal of the controversy, as I rememeber it from my grade-school seat, was around kids who were struggling. Many of these kids had parents who weren't familiar with regions, functions, set theory and factorials, and so couldn't help them with their homework. Had we stuck with the program, this issue would eventually have gone away, but it was a real issue at the time. I suspect that there were also issues with teacher training at some schools, though I every teacher I had was excited about New Math.

The other issues were around implemenation. Kids were switched from one curriculum to the other, at grade level, without any catch-up. 4th grade New Math requires many skills not taught in 3rd grade traditional math, so many kids floundered. When it was phased out, my class had New Math all the way through, the class of '87 had traditional math all the way through. Had a similar phase-in been done when the New Math was introduced, I suspect it would have gone more smoothly.

I remember my calculus teacher in college commenting that he saw a major drop in preparedness when the class of '87 came through. If International Math is the same as new math, then I'm all for it. But, I would hope that we could do a better job of implementing it than California did in the 1960s.