Friday, November 30, 2007

The Alliance for Education

So there's this full page ad in the PI today (maybe the Times as well) where the Alliance is thanking the people who attended their Black and Orange Ball in October. It's quite a list (SilverCloud Inns and Hotels?).

I read a few of their publications. In one place they say this is what a Seattle public school graduate should have:
  • have the foundational skills for reading, writing, math and science and have the capacity for change
  • communicate effectively (they could have used this for point one; what does that mean?)
  • be a critical consumer of information and be able to utilize changing technology
  • think analytically and solve problems
  • understand and value themselves and others
  • work respectfully and productively in teams
  • value democracy, diversity and community stewardship
  • appreciate the arts
  • be prepared for careers and life-long learning
That's quite a laundry list. Maybe we should add to the list of everything else we want in a high school graduate.

I'm being sarcastic here but you get a list from SPS, then one from OSPI, then the Alliance chimes in. How do we know what's enough, too much or too little? Is this too ambitious a list or maybe that's the point?

Good News About Rainier Beach HS


I wanted to pass along this article about Rainier Beach High School that appeared in the Seattle Times on Friday. As all of you can imagine, we are pretty proud of this, but are nowhere near satisfied. We still face huge challenges every day, but I would just like the larger community to know that real learning does take place at RB and that there is dedicated, talented and focused administration and faculty that are committed to the education of every child that enters the doors at RBHS.

When it comes to academic achievement, I wonder when the last time Roosevelt, Nathan Hale and Rainier Beach were used in the same sentence?


Spotlight on Chris Jackins

The West Seattle Herald has a nice piece highlighting the work of Chris Jackins: School critic remains focused on his task.

While I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with Chris on particular issues, I respect the time he has invested in being a district watch dog and the knowledge he has accumulated during that time.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's Official: We Have Four New Board Members

I attended the swearing-in ceremony at the John Stanford Center last night for the 4 new Board members. It was very sweet with relatives swearing in new members (Sherry Carr had a close friend who was the former principal at Bagley). They each gave a brief speech; one went on a bit long (which might be an future indicator). Ellen Roe, the grand dame of the Board (she served 4 terms at least) was there as well.

One oddity which may also be a future indicator (or something to hold them to): apparently Dr. Goodloe-Johnson found a directors' "affirmation" which they all agreed to recite. Cheryl Chow read most of it but they all chimed in at different places. They agreed to "abide by the policies and bylaws" of the Board. (Hold them to that, Charlie.) They agreed to "leave the day-to-day operations of the district to the superintendent and staff" - great but it is sometimes a gray area. They agreed to "no independent comments or actions" as directors. That one is really odd because if Mary Bass had sat on her hands about the financial problems, we might not have found out about it for a long time. And, they agreed to "refer constituent concerns to the appropriate staff". Good luck with that one. People feel like they elect these people to help them when really they are elected to oversee the superintendent.

I hope the new Board remembers this when unhappy parents call about school assignments.

Thought-Provoking Column on Teachers

This is the latest column from Leonard Pitts, Jr., a syndicated columnist. It has a lot of interesting thoughts based on a tour through a KIPP (chain of charter schools - one of the most successful charter systems in the country).

I found this section particularly compelling:

"Having spent the past year studying educational success stories, I find myself increasingly convinced that much of what ails American schools can be traced to a bureaucracy that: (a) doesn't pay enough; (b) does too little to encourage and reward creativity; (c) doesn't give principals authority over who works in their schools; (d) makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.

As Dolan put it, "I don't think you can pay a good teacher enough and I don't think you can fire a bad teacher fast enough." (italics mine).

"Teachers are generally very optimistic," said KIPP co-founder Dave Levin. "Unfortunately what happens is, you don't have a lot of examples in this country of systemic success and success at scale. You might have a good teacher there or a good teacher here, but you don't get enough concentration within a school or a district to have a cycle of success." "

Should Newcomers have to Pass the WASL?

There were two recent articles about the subject of immigrant students and WASL requirements. This article about Dr. Bergeson's efforts on this front appeared in today's Times. The other article appeared in the Times earlier in the week about teachers who know their students are passing classes but cannot pass the WASL. Part of argument seems to be whether these students should be treated like special ed students who get different measures of assessment.

From the second article:

"For those who are recent immigrants, however, she's not sure what to do. No matter how hard they work, she says, most haven't been in the country long enough to have much — if any — chance of passing a 10th-grade exam in English.

And that, she says, is "extremely unfair."

That's a sentiment shared by many of her colleagues in Seattle and across the state who are concerned about the roughly 2,000 students who probably won't graduate because they don't know enough English.

"If you or I lived in a country less than one year, we'd never pass," said Sid Glass, Douglas' counterpart at Ballard High. "There has to be some accommodation for these students."

It's also a sentiment questioned by those who think that students shouldn't earn a diploma until they can demonstrate the required skills in reading, writing and math — in English.

"In truth, if they go out there with a diploma, and they're clearly four to five years behind, what will that diploma really do for them?" asked Ricardo Sanchez, board chairman of the nonprofit Latino/a Educational Achievement Project (LEAP)."

Some facts from the article:

"Students who are learning English have a lower passage rate on the WASL than any other group reported — including students in special education (who have more options), and students who live in poverty."

"Starting this school year, however, all students, with the exception of some in special-education programs, also must pass reading and writing on the 10th-grade WASL, or an approved alternative, to earn a diploma. (They must pass an additional math class if they fail math on the WASL.)"

"When it comes to evaluating schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law, even the state superintendent's office has tried to convince the U.S. Department of Education that WASL scores of immigrant students shouldn't be counted for up to three years. But diplomas are a different matter." This is an important point for this discussion because since No Child Left Behind got no reforms in Congress (because no one could get a bill to the floor), these standards remain in place.

Well, I'm kind of with Charlie - could they pass the GED? If so, then they can have a diploma.

Here's some questions:

- what, if any, accommodations should these students receive?

- what do we want students to be able to do when they leave high school? Meaning, what do we, as a society, want them to be able to do? Be citizens? Be trained for a job? Be ready for college? Should it depend on what classes you take in high school? Many countries have kids take a track in high school (Germany for one) and no one bats an eye. But the kids and their parents choose. I don't think they are assigned.

From the first article:

"Bergeson also doesn't favor allowing immigrant students to graduate without passing reading and writing on the 10th-grade WASL, which is an option for some special-education students. It's also the policy in other states, such as Minnesota, where students who are learning English don't have to pass the state exit exam if they've been in the country for less than three years before graduation."

My husband immigrated to the US from Italy when he was 9. He said it was pretty difficult for him in school for the first couple of years. Imagine being a teenager with the pressure of not just learning English but proving it on a test for a piece of paper that is considered vital to being American.

Dr. Bergeson wants to throw a lot of money at the problem; maybe it will work. One thing that should be part of any effort is helping these immigrant communities - not just the students - understand that it is vital to support their students. It doesn't mean leaving your culture behind but accepting that living successfully in the US means you have to learn English. Our school system, however, has got to understand the data that it takes 3-7 years to become "academically-able" in another language.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Constituent School Boards

I went to the Charleston county website to look up how they enroll students. I was wondering what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had used in her past job to see if I might discern her thinking on the assignment plan. Oddly, I could not find a blessed thing. I searched everywhere and used their search feature and nothing. (Also, no staff directory. We may have a better district website than we think.)

Anyway, what I did find was that they have a 9-person School Board but then they have these regions with something called Constituent School Boards. There is absolutely no explanation of who these folks are or their role but I was intrigued. Has anyone ever heard of this before?

Okay, We Passed Simple Majority But There's One Catch

So I'm reading the Times online and see this story about the first levy elections after the Simple Majority passed. This will be happening in Snohomish county (and probably some others) in Feb. In a way, it's not a real first test because it will also occur the same time as the presidential primary which is likely to have high voter participation. Here's an interesting thing to keep in mind about the changeover (from the Times' article):

"Snohomish County adopted all-mail voting in January 2006, but it didn't take effect until the September primary, making the seven districts the first to run finance measures under the all-mail vote.

When Thurston County changed to all-mail voting in 1993, one of the first casualties was school-finance measures, said Auditor Kim Wyman. Instead of running one campaign, which often consisted of mailings and phone calls to supporters on the eve of the election, Wyman said districts had to shift to running campaigns timed to the mailing of absentee ballots and continuing through the election date."

What was the outcome?

"In 1994, [North] Thurston schools had a double levy failure for the first time. A lot of people pointed fingers at us," because of the change to all-mail voting, Wyman said,

Once school supporters adjusted their campaign strategies, she said, they successfully passed finance measures, though by narrower margins. The upside for the county, she said, was that voter participation nearly tripled, from about 13 percent to 42 percent in general elections."

So voter participation tripled (which is good) but the measures passed by narrower margins (not so good).

Last, there was this sentence that caught my eye and caused me to call the Secretary of State about it:

"Construction-bond measures still require 60 percent approval."

This is important because SPS's capital measure was, this time out, a bond measure. We normally have it as a levy. The woman at the Secretary of State's office said yes, a capital bond measure will still require a 60% supermajority while a capital levy will require a simple majority. She said most capital measures are bonds.

So it will all depend on what the district does next time out. They did a bond this time to get the money upfront and try to speed up construction schedules before construction costs go up but will they take the chance again next time if it will require a 60% supermajority?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

High School Credits

This was in our student bulletin at RHS:

"NEW APPROVAL PROCESS FOR ANY OUT OF DISTRICT COURSEWORK - Students who want to take ANY courses outside of Roosevelt for which they want credit towards Roosevelt graduation requirements, whether through BYU Distance Learning, Dartmoor, ETC or EA2, summer programs at UW or at Georgetown, take note: There is a new district policy which takes effect immediately, requiring students to get documented approval from their counselor and fill out paperwork PRIOR to enrolling in the course. "

This kind of follows up on Charlie's questions about getting math/language credit in high school for middle school work. Looks like some new district policy has taken effect.

New K-3 Libraries; How are They Working at Your School?

This article appeared in Monday's PI about the new mini-libraries in every K-2 classroom in Seattle. The plan is to extend it to 3, 4, and 5th grades. This from the article:

"The libraries aren't intended to replace regular school libraries but complement them. The hope is that students' interest in reading will be sparked by the classroom libraries and, in turn, circulation at school libraries will get a boost, Coles said."

A couple of things I had wondered about:

-from the article: "Thanks to new libraries installed in each Seattle kindergarten, first- and second-grade classroom this fall, Meisner and her peers have instant access to hundreds of books, each labeled with a letter from A to Z to indicate its level of difficulty."

Who determines an "R" versus an "S"? Isn't that a pretty detailed level of difficulty? What staff member has this job and who labels all the books?

- I hadn't heard about it being extended to 3, 4 and 5th. Where is this money coming from? And, where does this leave librarians? Have you spoken to your school's librarian? Is it complementing what they do?

Don't get me wrong; getting all kids onboard reading with good strong skills is vital. But with the new weighted staff formula might this not encourage a principal to get rid (or go to parttime) for a higher cost librarian with the reasoning that each classroom already has its own library?

(One last note; going through schools for closure and consolidation and checking out a variety of libraries was sobering. All school libraries are not equal and I was shocked at how understocked some libraries were as well as the dismal conditions of some of the rooms.)

High School Graduation Requirements

From a CPPS e-mail today:

How High Should We Set the High School Graduation Bar? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Are our children getting a world-class education to prepare them for 21st century life after high school? The WA State Board of Education wants to hear your thoughts as they review high school graduation requirements for the first time in 22 years. Background information/presentations will be provided to help inform this critical discussion.

Join this important community conversation:

Wednesday, December 4
6 - 8 pm
North Seattle Community College
College Center Bldg Cafeteria
9600 College Way North

The WA State Board of Education will use feedback from this meeting and from community meetings across the state to define the purpose of the high school diploma and to draft recommendations for new high school graduation requirements. The outcomes will be shared with the public in spring 2008 with another round of community outreach meetings pre-finalization. For more info: visit the State Board of Education website.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Advisory Committees

There are a couple District Policies regarding advisory committees, E08.00 and E08.01. E08.01 requires the appointing entity to respond to the recommendations from an advisory committee within three months. The Superintendent is the appointing entity for most advisory committees, and a number of them make their reports and recommendations at the end of the school year. If a committee made their report and recommendations in July, the Superintendent's response was due in October. The Superintendent, however, has yet to make some of these responses. They are a month overdue and approaching two months overdue.

There are, of course, a number of legitimate reasons that the Superintendent's response might be delayed - new Superintendent, new program managers, various outside evaluations, etc. Just the same, I would think that professionalism, courtesy, and respect would dictate that the Superintendent get in touch with these committees with an apology for the delay, an explanation for the delay, and a timetable for the response. If nothing else, the Superintendent should do it to keep the committee members positively disposed towards her. They are, for the most part, some pretty influential people in the District.

The responses that came from Mr. Manhas were terrible. They were essentially non-responsive. He would typically address only a few of the recommendations and, often, wouldn't address any of them. As more time passes, the expectations for the responses increases. If the Superintendent is going to take five months to draft a response it had better be comprehensive and specific.

These responses will be some of the first community engagement by the Superintendent and some of the first indications of the direction she wants to take the district. I think we're all looking forward to what she will do.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Schramie for Caprice

So I'm watching the local news one night and, at the end, there's Ken Schram. He's a newsman (to some degree) and he basically gets to do a semi-rant about whatever politicians/leaders do that bug him. To those he really disagrees with or whose actions he finds ridiculous, he gives out a statue dubbed the Schramie. So who did he give one to this week? None other than our director of Equity and Race Relations , Caprice Hollins.

He was upset about her sending a letter to teachers about Thanksgiving saying it was a time of grieving for some Native Americans and shouldn't be cast in a rosy glow. Okay, first when the first Thanksgiving did occur, there was obviously some outreach between the settlers and the Native Americans. (Before and after we became a country? Obviously, the way Native Americans were treated was a complete disaster on so many levels you'd have to be an idiot not to get that.) It seems like you could take Thanksgiving in the light of which it occurred or you could not. My main issue is that I feel for teachers wondering what the heck they can say about this event especially to elementary schoolchildren.

More to the point, if you go to the Equity and Race Relations website at the SPS website, there's a lot of sharp wording that makes you wonder if her goal is to scold or to help. Here's an example.

On the website under Learn, there's a link to "What is Cultural Awareness?" and, at the end of that, a link to a booklet called "I Can Fix It". That booklet is a coldly aggressive call to action for white people to wake and get themselves out of their white world. (CORRECTION: I erred in my initial post when I said that the booklet "I Can Fix It" contained the next sentence. The respect for teachers sentence was in the main page, called "What is Cultural Competence?" where the link to the booklet is. My apologies and thank you to Johnny C. for pointing this out.) Some of its items -like not expecting students to respect teachers when they first walk in the door - are, to me, flat out wrong. Yes, respect is earned (especially if you have a clueless or mean teacher) but the minute we say to our kids that you don't have to go into a classroom and respect your teacher, well, we are then asking for trouble. I cannot speak for teachers but I know how I would feel in that situation.

It also talks about not getting upset or trying to calm down a person of color who is expressing outrage over racism. I encountered that very situation at the last Board meeting where a guy who speaks about once a month and always, always frames everything through the lens of race and nearly always has something unkind/cruel to say even to members of his own race did it again (and had to be arrested to get him to stop). Everyone in that room wanted him to stop. It was not because we didn't feel he didn't have the right to speak or that he didn't have a point to make. But yelling and calling names is not the way to do it. Great orators don't need those tricks. And there's a difference between yelling and showing great passion.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of people in this district, this city, this state, this country who do not want to learn about other people and their struggles. Who do not want to face up to what we have done to Native Americans and African-Americans. Who do not get that centuries or decades of wrongful treatment cannot be easily undone. Who do not get what it means to have someone treat you differently on sight.

But I feel Dr. Hollins' is not really helping. I think her aggressive stances are making critics of this district have plenty to talk about. But maybe I'm not understanding what her work is really about or who her work is directed at. That might be the real problem.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Follow-up on School Closures

The implementation of the school closures has been quiet compared to the discussion of the plan. Personally, the only impact I have seen has been some new children in Pathfinder who came because their previous West Seattle elementary schools closed.

But I have been wondering about the schools and families more directly impacted, and would love to hear from families and teachers at those schools about what it has been like this year.

The Seattle PI today, has a piece that tracks the numbers: After 5 schools closed, 157 students left Seattle district, which certainly gives a partial picture of the impact, especially financially for the district. But I want to know more.

Stories anyone?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

WASL - Guest Column in the Times

This op-ed appeared in today's Times. It is by David Marshak, a respected educator in the College of Education at Seattle U. He details how Superintendent Bergeson's pass rate claims for the WASL are, by his measure, not true. He says at the end:

"Is this really a great achievement after 14 years and who knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars spent on testing? And, are our schools not pretty much where we were in 1992 before we started with this unproven yet very expensive obsession with standards and high-stakes testing?"

That is an understatement (posed as a question).

Kids Need to Read

This article appeared in the NY Times and says that kids appear to be reading less for fun and that reading and writing scores are declining. From the article:

"In his preface to the new 99-page report Dana Gioia, chairman of the endowment, described the data as “simple, consistent and alarming.”

Among the findings is that although reading scores among elementary school students have been improving, scores are flat among middle school students and slightly declining among high school seniors. These trends are concurrent with a falloff in daily pleasure reading among young people as they progress from elementary to high school, a drop that appears to continue once they enter college. The data also showed that students who read for fun nearly every day performed better on reading tests than those who reported reading never or hardly at all."

There is argument over whether this is indeed true. The study, this time, did include all kinds of reading including literary and pleasure. Here's what a comment from someone who disagrees:

"Timothy Shanahan, past president of the International Reading Association and a professor of urban education and reading at the University of Illinois at Chicago, suggested that the endowment’s report was not nuanced enough. “I don’t disagree with the N.E.A.’s notion that reading is important, but I’m not as quick to discount the reading that I think young people are really doing,” he said, referring to reading on the Internet. He added, “I don’t think the solutions are as simple as a report like this might be encouraging folks to think they might be.”

If Mr. Shanahan means by that, kids should read more then maybe that is simplistic. I do believe, however, that kids have many more distractions than ever before.

Testing Dangers

Yet another troubling story about testing and testing flaws. This from an article that appeared in the NY Times about an international test (which I had never heard of) that is given to students worldwide (including US students) that had not been proofread...by anybody. The pages were numbered incorrectly and students had been directed to "the question on page X" rather than the opposite page. From the article:

"The problem came on a test known as the Program for International Student Assessment that allows students’ proficiency to be compared with that of their international peers. It was administered to 5,600 American 15-year-olds last fall, as well as to students in the 30 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and in 27 less developed countries. Scores are scheduled for release next month."

It's serious because:

“We need to recognize that the testing industry is under immense pressure at a time when scores are being given immense importance,” said Thomas Toch, who wrote a report last year detailing the problems of the American testing industry for Education Sector, an independent policy group, where he is a co-director.

Conducted every three years, the international test focused on science literacy in 2006, but also included sections on reading and math. The problem with last fall’s test was that pages in the exam booklet were assigned incorrect numbers. As a result, questions referred students to texts, said to be “on the opposite page,” but in reality printed on a previous page."

Monday, November 19, 2007

FYI Meetings

The next meeting for the Seattle Council PTSA is Monday, Nov. 26th, from 6:30-7:00 p.m., social/light dinner and 7-9 p.m. General Meeting. It is at the John Stanford Center.

They will be talking with Tracy Libros from Enrollment and Planning on the Assignment Plan. There will also be a guest speaker, Ortencia Santana, from the Beacon Hill PTA about their approaches to increasing family involvement in multicultural communities.

Childcare provided. If you need childcare, call 364-7430 or info@seattlecouncilptsa.org.

Also, the Washington State Board of Education will have a Community Meeting on Improving Graduation Requirements on December 4th from 6-8 p.m. at the North Seattle Community College Cafeteria (in the College Center Building). (Start with making the math portion of the WASL about math and not reading and writing and drop either the senior project or community service. Any of that would help.)

Rethinking Homework

I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading about homework and the its impacts (both positive and negative) on kids of different ages. I believe there is too much homework assigned, in general, and that much of it does not have a positive learning impact.

Below are a few resources and quotes on the homework debate:

1) Parent Map's "Should we kill homework?"

"Should kids get to turn away from schoolwork when class time finishes? At Valley School, a private K-5 school in Seattle’s Madison Valley, the answer is yes. Barry Wright, formerly a fifth-grade teacher at Valley and now its director, says, “People don’t stop and think about the harm homework is doing. When you’re really in touch with kids, it seems apparent.” Valley teachers assign no homework until third grade, and even then Wright says it is “very light.” Minimal homework is a longstanding Valley policy. “We’re efficient during the [school] day — we’re good at it — and when kids go home we think they should just be kids,” Wright says. “Our mantra is that kids should leave our school loving school. Homework can kill that.”

Wright is troubled by the pressure homework exerts on parents, too. “When parents have to be teacher and [homework] enforcer, it puts a strain on the parent-child relationship,” he says. “Parents feel that if their kids don’t do their homework, they are bad parents.”"

2) Alfie Kohn's The homework myth: why our kids get too much of a bad thing

From the inside cover jacket: "Alfie Kohn systematically examines the usual defenses of homework --- that it promotes higher achivement, "reinforces" learning, and teaches study skills and responsibility. None of these assumptions, he shows, actually passes the test of research, logic or experience.

The available evidence indicates, for example, that homework provides absolutely no academic benefits for younger students. It also raises serious questions about whether homework is necessary for older students, and it challenges the belief that homework promotes independence and good work habits."

3) The current Seattle Public Schools homework policies (established in 1983)

Elementary School Homework
Middle School Homework
High School Homework

4) The introduction to Brita Butler-Wall's draft (below) for a revised Seattle Public Schools homework policy. She also sent me the draft policies for elementary, middles school, and high school, but they are too long to post here and, I believe, the most important parts are captured in her introduction.



HOMEWORK C11.00 Adopted JUN 1983 Former Code(s): G61.00

It is the policy of the Seattle School Board that meaningful and purposeful homework is essential for all students at all grade levels, as part of their educational experience.

Definition: Homework is a learning task is intended to accomplish course goals outside the classroom without immediate teacher supervision.

Purposes: Homework may be assigned to awaken student interest in a topic, to prepare for class discussion, to develop study skills and time management, to deepen understanding of a topic, to achieve fluency and automaticity through practice, to apply knowledge and skills, to pursue individual interests, and/or to integrate knowledge across courses and disciplines.

Teachers: Teachers who assign homework are responsible for clarifying objectives, due dates, and instructions and for monitoring and giving prompt feedback on completed assignments. Teachers should coordinate with other building staff before assigning major projects, to avoid scheduling overload. Assigning homework as punishment or as busywork is not permitted. Teachers are discouraged from using homework to compensate for poorly-executed lessons or poor time-management.

Students: Students are responsible for completing all homework assignments and turning them in on time using the specified format, for negotiating for an extension of deadlines as needed, and for seeking help from classmates, teacher, and family members in accessing resources, as needed.

Parents: Parents and guardians are encouraged to develop a conducive environment for learning at home, to provide support for their student, to give feedback to the teacher, and to encourage the student to bring homework questions and concerns to the attention of the teacher. Parents and guardians are discouraged from giving direct assistance with homework since this skews the feedback for the teacher on the effectiveness of the instruction.

Amount: The amount of homework assigned will vary by developmental age of the student (maximum 10 min./day per grade total for all subjects), the topic, and the objectives. There is no maximum amount for high school students; however, it is expected that students will be able to balance homework with family and community responsibilities and opportunities to develop into well-rounded adults through out-of-school experiences with arts, sports, recreation, independent reading, and reflection. Homework assignments should help transition high school students into the rigors of higher education.

Consistent homework standards will be established within each individual building following procedures established by the district and best practices and will be communicated in writing to parents, guardians, and students.

Alternative Schools Matter

This was a great article that appeared in the NY Times about a public alternative high school in Great Neck, NY that, to my limited knowledge, sounds a lot like Nova, one of the alternative high schools here in Seattle. Nova has one of the worst buildings in the District (and it's a badge I think they wear proudly) but they do good work for kids who need a different way of learning. And, Nova students produce results, doing well on the WASL and many of them going to 4-year colleges and universities.

"Nationwide, alternative schools and programs are not closely tracked — the last count was 10,900 by federal education officials in 2001 — but some estimates have put the number at more than 12,000 when private schools are included. Districts from Farmington, Conn., to Vista, Calif., have started alternative schools in the past three years, while many others are considering them, including the Roslyn district on Long Island, which has not had an alternative school for more than a decade.

“The reality is that every school district could use a Village School because one size does not fit all,” said Dan Brenner, an assistant Roslyn superintendent who was principal of the Village School from 1993 to 2000."

I have to believe that Seattle probably has more alternative schools than other districts around the country given the numbers stated in the article. There must have been a willingness in the '80s (when a lot of our alternatives were developed) to listen to parents. It's interesting that of the alternatives produced later on - AAA, New School and Center School - one (AAA) is still classified as alternative (but has not been either successful or popular and is unlikely to retain its all-city draw status, if indeed, we come out of the assignment plan with that still in place), New School was developed by an outside foundation (and has been able to shake off the "alternative" tag even though it seems more alternative than most schools) and Center School, because of its size and focus, seems alternative, is classified as "non-traditional" and wants to get the distance tie-breaker taken off the table for its assignments (it could happen but unfortunately I also think transportation could be taken off the table as well).

ADHD and Future Academic Success

This NY Times article seems like a hopeful view of the possibilities for kids with ADD. From the article:

"Educators and psychologists have long feared that children entering school with behavior problems were doomed to fall behind in the upper grades. But two new studies suggest that those fears are exaggerated.

One concluded that kindergartners who are identified as troubled do as well academically as their peers in elementary school. The other found that children with attention deficit disorders suffer primarily from a delay in brain development, not from a deficit or flaw.

Experts say the findings of the two studies, being published today in separate journals, could change the way scientists, teachers and parents understand and manage children who are disruptive or emotionally withdrawn in the early years of school. The studies might even prompt a reassessment of the possible causes of disruptive behavior in some children."

One side note is that they found that math ability, at 5 or 6 not preschool, is tied to how well a child will do by 5th grade. This effect was found in boys and girls and well-off and poorer families. The take on that issue is that better math instruction in preschool would help. (But that brings up how many kids have preschool and of those who do, how many get math instruction?)

More Science and Engineering

Following up on Bill Gates' remarks, this article appeared in the NY Times about biotech programs. From the article:

"We know the refrain by now: the United States, birthplace of most of the great commercial advances of the last 60 years, must increasingly rely on overseas talent, otherwise known as imported brains, to maintain an edge.

Talented immigrants are crucial to American vitality, and employers are smart to woo them. But research universities aren’t content to rely only on the overseas pipeline, and are working to make science and engineering studies more appealing to American students.

Sometimes overlooked in this mix is how high schools can help cultivate a fresh crop of scientists, engineers and lab technicians. Secondary science and mathematics education is on the rise, with growing numbers of students in more challenging classes. Enrollment in advanced biology and physics courses doubled from 1997 to 2004, nearly doubled for advanced math and rose 50 percent for advanced chemistry, according to the National Science Foundation."

A couple of reasons why biotech is popular:

"Biotechnology, for example, remains a promising field, and companies in the industry have less math-intensive demands than electronics and computing employers. So biotech is a popular field with students and is emerging as an educational proving ground."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bill Gates: Get Thee to School Young People

This article appeared in the Seattle Times under the title, "Bill Gates Sees Engineer Shortage Looming". In the article, he makes a lot of pertinent points such as:

-"The overall picture is that the United States is not turning out, from any group, as many of the great engineers as there will be jobs for," he told an energetic audience gathered at the company's Redmond headquarters for a weekend conference of the National Society of Black Engineers."

-Fewer people remain interested in technological work as they progress through school, and there's a particular drop-off among women and minorities, groups that are already underrepresented in computer science, Gates said.

"We have to think, what is it, in high school, in college, that really knocks things off track," he said.

Later, drawing on his work through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with U.S. high schools, Gates said solutions include smaller classes; curricula focused on specific themes and immersion of students in them; and new ways of measuring teachers and holding them accountable.

I thought it was cool that the group he was speaking before - the National Society of Black Engineers recited their goal:

"The group is working toward its mission, which the crowd recited in unison shortly before Gates took the stage, to "increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community."

Mr. Gates was also honest about his life. "Gates said that along with passion, focus and hard work, one needs good fortune." He talked about his relationships with Paul Allen and Steve Ballmer.

I thought a couple of things were interesting in what he said about high schools. I'm not sure I agree that specialization in high school is the best idea. However, I think it would be better to have a lot more kids exposed to what jobs there are AND bringing in professionals to talk about them (and not just on Career day if your high school even has one). I think the whole educational commuity needs to be held accountable and not just teachers.

It was ironic he spoke of class size because we all know that despite I-728 none of us has seen class sizes go down. There are lots of reasons but none of them particularly good. (At my son's school, some of it is overenrollment, what's the reason at your school?) Also, Sally Soriano, in her last remarks did not take the time to talk about herself but, to the end, talked about education. One of the things she mentioned was the need to have a commitment, in every school, to 15-student class size in k-3 to get those kids started off right.

It's like the weather; everyone talks about smaller class size and no one does anything about it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Odds and Ends from the School Board Meeting

What can you say about a Board meeting that - 2 1/2 hours in - wasn't even halfway done? And the speaker list wasn't even full?

First, you have one speaker who is a long-time public annoyance and got up and proceeded to make racist remarks to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and then, when Cheryl Chow asked him to stop, made racist remarks to her. Cheryl asked him to stop, he shouted about his First Amendment rights and Cheryl called an intermission and the entire Board left. Then he goes on and on with Security who are then forced to call the police who had to drag him out. I wouldn't have any problem banning this guy from speaking. He's done this numerous times and it just gets old.

One interesting thing I learned from one speaker is that AE II is now called Thornton Creek School (and they want the Assignment plan to give them an "in" to Salmon Bay).

I myself was speaking against an Action item to take all the 15% contingency fees that each BEX III project has and put them into one big fund. I really worry that this will allow Facilities to hide any cost overruns. They are already dipping into the $20M Program Reserve - now - for Hamilton and New School. I hate to think what will happen for projects on the tail end of this bond measure. (The Board approved this measure.)

Also, I pointed out that I had learned that Hale will stay on-site for their rebuild. This is something that Facilities said - and continue to argue against in the new draft of the Facilities Master Plan -that they wouldn't do but are doing. And, the smokestack at Hale that was a "critical seismic problem "which Facilities told the Board before the election? Not so critical now so it won't be coming down.

I told the Board and the Superintendent that it is my belief that someday, either because of internal pressure or external pressure, there will be an audit of Facilities and it will probably surprise and dismay many people. I don't believe at all there is anything illegal going on but I do think there has been movement of money hidden and cost and time overruns that no one wants to admit to.

Then, all the Board members (except Darlene Flynn who was in Hawaii - this was the last Board meeting for the current Board) were saying public goodbyes to each other with one particular Board member taking almost 20 minutes. Of course, Brita was the kindest and most gracious in her remarks, remembering to thank many people.

But there were some bright spots. It looks like the School-Family Partnership Committee has really got a lot going on and is hoping for a larger budget (or maybe the Alliance for Education could kick in here) to get many of their initiatives going. Also the National Conservation Update was really great - they have saved about $272,000 this year at the headquarters and at many schools. I think the district is really serious about going green (to some extent) and I hope they have some ideas for schools to implement.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

From Steve Sundquist

Here's another introduction from a newly elected Seattle School Board member, Steve Sundquist.

"Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself to your readers. I decided to run for the Seattle School Board because I believe deeply that all of our children deserve a quality education and the opportunity to succeed.

I’m hopeful that this year’s election marked an important turning point for Seattle’s schools and the leadership of our District. The public voted by significant margins for school board candidates who possess broad and deep experience. As I listened to each of the recently elected candidates on the campaign trail, I heard us echoing similar priorities while maintaining our unique voices and frames of reference.

As I said repeatedly during the campaign, my focus will be on raising standards, improving the academic achievement of all our students, and turning around our under-performing schools so that all children, in all neighborhoods, get the quality education they deserve. I believe that we have a mandate to push forward in the direction of improved academic achievement for all students and effective fiscal management of the District.

We have a new Superintendent and leadership team who are bringing hope, energy, and a focus on student achievement. There’s a renewed commitment to accountability and results. As Dr. Goodloe-Johnson completes her entry period and offers her multi-year strategic plan to make Seattle a “District of Excellence", my top priority will be to evaluate the plan, offer my recommendations for improving it, and then help to unite the community behind the final result. Implementation is critical; the sooner we can move to this step, the sooner we can begin measuring our results and making the adjustments needed for long-term success.

I am optimistic about the future of Seattle Public Schools, and I look forward to serving as a School Board Director. Thank you for giving me this unique opportunity!"

Looking Good For Simple Majority

With a bit under 69,000 ballots estimated left to count, 32,000 of which are in King, 4204 is likely to pass.

Consultants and a Plan; So What Else is New?

This was sent out by Dr. Goodloe-Johnson (I'm not sure to whom but likely community leaders):

As I begin my fifth month in Seattle, I am impressed by the dedication and passion of our staff members in our schools and in our central office. I have seen areas of excellence throughout our District, where our students are successful, our staff are energized, and our families are engaged.

You may have heard about or been involved in some of the reviews that are underway in our district. The purpose of these reviews is to identify these areas of excellence, develop plans to enhance and expand those areas, and direct resources and best practices to areas in need. This can ensure that our district becomes a "District of Excellence," recognized throughout Washington and the nation.

Today, I am delighted to announce a deepening of our relationships with local philanthropic partners dedicated to excellence in Seattle Public Schools. The support of our local philanthropic foundations has enabled us to partner with McKinsey & Company, a worldwide strategic
management consulting firm with significant local ties and public sector experience. They will work with us to develop our multi-year strategic plan, which will include specific strategies to accelerate our vision of excellence as the norm becoming a reality.

You may be asked to participate in an interview with our McKinsey consultants, or to fill out a survey, or to participate in this work in some other way. I have designated Holly Ferguson as my point person for this. Ms. Ferguson is the Manager for Strategic Alignment; she works with me, my Chief Academic Officer and my Chief Financial & Operating Officer on strategic issues.

I look forward to sharing the results of McKinsey's work and to collaborating with you all to achieve the kinds of dramatic improvements for our students, families, and staff that this moment offers Seattle Public Schools.

Dr. Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D.

Reading between the lines, some organization is fronting the money to hire this McKinsey. (Wikipedia has some interesting things to say about this firm but frankly, if you've dealt with one consulting firm, you know what they are like.) Holly Ferguson is very bright but not the most forthcoming person (maybe it's the lawyer in her).

Sigh. Another plan, another vision. I had expected Dr. Goodloe-Johnson to do a through overview of the district. But we allegedly already have a plan and now here comes another one. And really, the Board should be the ones to set up the plan and then the Superintendent figures out how to enact it and then follows thru. I'll be interested to see the Board's reaction.

I do like the phrase, "where our students are successful, our staff are energized, and our families are engaged". It has the ring of A Prairie Home Companion but it really is what we want to see in SPS.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

From Peter Maier

After the election, I invited all the newly elected School Board members to post something on this blog. Peter Maier is the first to send his piece in.

"With most of the votes now counted, I have been elected to the Seattle School Board by a majority of over 63%. I thank the voters of Seattle for the trust they have placed in me.

I recognize that the incumbent Sally Soriano had the support of a significant number of voters, including some contributors to this blog. With the election now over, I hope we can put it behind us and unite around our common goal of achieving a quality education for all Seattle public school students across the city. For my part, I will listen carefully to all persons who care about our schools, regardless of which candidate they supported in the election.

Now the hard work begins. We are fortunate to have School Board members, both new and old, who are dedicated to improving our schools and to sustaining the many good things that are already happening. I am hopeful, and excited at the prospect of trying to solve these policy puzzles.

I believe that the School Board has an ideal opportunity to work together with the Superintendent and her staff to identify key priorities and then move forward with them. This is more than just campaign talk. With largely new leadership in the SPS senior staff, and with four new Board members, we have a unique window of opportunity to establish these priorities. Just what these priorities will be I cannot say at this point because I myself do not yet know. I am very aware that I am one of seven Board members, and that the Board must be aligned with the Superintendent. My own suggestions would be:
  • turnaround plans for selected schools;
  • improving math instruction;
  • financial health of the district;
  • strengthening middle schools and 9th grade transition; and
  • completing the assignment plan changes.

These priorities are likely to emerge in the next few months through the interactions of the Superintendent and the Board, and with plenty of public input and discussion.

Thanks, and I look forward to working with and representing all of you.

Peter Maier"

Simple Majority IS Passing

As of 6:00 p.m. on 11/13, Simple Majority is ahead by 6,000 votes. Stay tuned!

Agenda Item: School Transformation Plans

There is this apparently innocuous item on the Board agenda for this week. It is titled "School Transformation Plans" and appears to be another of those routine administrative tasks that state law requires of the Board, such as approving all warrants, the personnel report, and certifying that new construction won't exacerbate segregation.

Here's the language of the actual motion:
"I move that the Seattle School Board approve the method of review of school transformation plans outlined by the Chief Academic Officer, accept the Chief Academic Officer’s certification that each school in the District has complied with WAC 180-16-220, and approve the schools within the District."

It appears that the Board is doing three things here:
1. Approving a method used by the CAO to review School Transformation Plans

2. Accepting the CAO's certification that there is a plan for every school and that every school's plan complies with the requirements of a state law

3. Approving the schools in the District.

I don't understand any of these actions. I don't understand the need for the first two actions and I don't understand the language of the third.

Why would it be necessary for the Board to approve the CAO's method for reviewing the plans? The law doesn't require it. The law only requires the Board to approve the plans. In what other situation does the Board move to approve the methods used by a District Staff person? I don't think it is their role. I don't think that they are, officially, supposed to have any direct communication with the CAO. All of their communication is supposed to be with the Superintendent. The only employee's work that they are supposed to approve or evaluate is the Superintendent's. This motion is out of whack.

And what is the CAO's method? It isn't disclosed in any supporting material for the Board Action. How can the Board approve of the CAO's method if the CAO's method isn't disclosed? And how can the Public form an opinion on the question when the CAO's method isn't disclosed?

The second element begs some of the same sort of questions. Why should the Board move to accept the CAO's certification about the plans? They are not required to do so. Where is that certification? What has the CAO actually certified? Does the Board accept this certification without any verification whatsoever? Wouldn't that be an abdication of their oversight responsibility? If there is verification, then what is it? And why is the Board overseeing the CAO? Why doesn't the Superintendent offer the certification? After all, the CAO does not have to answer to the Board, only the Superintendent does.

Now for the third one. Why would the Board have to approve the schools? The Board Action Item makes it appear that the state law in question, WAC 180-16-220, requires the Board to annually approve the schools. What the Board is actually approving isn't so much the schools as the "school improvement plan" for every school. Here in Seattle, the School Transformation Plans fill the role of the State-mandated school improvement plans.

I strongly encourage each of you to follow those links and read both the Board Action Report and the law. The law requires that the school improvement plans include, at a minimum, a number of elements which have not historically been found in our School Transformation Plans.

For example:

How many School Transformation Plans recognize nonacademic student learning and growth related, but not limited to: Public speaking, leadership, interpersonal relationship skills, teamwork, self-confidence, and resiliency?

How many are based on a self-review of the school's program which includes active participation and input by building staff, students, families, parents, and community members?

How many address educational equity factors such as, but not limited to: gender, race, ethnicity, culture, language, and physical/mental ability, as these factors relate to having a positive impact on student learning? Here's an interesting fact, the state board of education strongly encourages that equity be viewed as giving each student what she or he needs and when and how she or he needs it to reach their achievement potential. This means that under-serving advanced learners represents inequity in the eyes of the State Board. How many School Transformation Plans address that question?

How many address the use of technology to facilitate instruction and a positive impact on student learning?

Do they all address parent, family, and community involvement, as these factors relate to having a positive impact on student learning?

These are all minimum required elements of the law which are commonly absent from School Transformation Plans. Given the fact that School Transformation Plans, at least every one that I have ever seen, don't meet the minimum requirements of the law, how can the Board approve them as if they did?

The answer, of course, is that they didn't before but now they do. That's what Ms Santorno will certify to the Board and what she has told me in email correspondence. This year, unlike any previous year, the District is in compliance. Well that's a good thing.

Of course, Ms Santorno offered the Board the same certification last year when it wasn't true. I can tell you that last year a number of schools did not have School Transformation Plans and that none of those plans met the requirement of the law. Not one. But last year the Board went ahead and provided the routine approval of this annual motion. There were no repurcussions. The State Board of Education is charged with enforcing this law and I can tell you that they have absolutely no interest in doing so. They never check a single plan at a single school in a single District. If you tell them that the law is being broken, they will take no action to investigate.

This might make you wonder why I even bother to mention it. Hey, if the law isn't enforced, then there is no risk in breaking it, right? If we have learned anything from the Bush Administration it is that what you are allowed to do is actually determined by those charged with holding you accountable - not by the rules. You are allowed to do whatever you can get away with.

Well, that might be true for private citizens like you and me when we drive five miles an hour over the speed limit, and for a president with a Congress and Supreme Court controlled by his party, but the rules are a bit different for local government bodies such as school districts.

There is this other little state law, RCW 28A-645-010, that basically says that pretty much any aggrieved citizen can appeal decisions of the school board to county superior court. So if a citizen where to think that this Board motion were approved in error, that there isn't actually true that there is a plan for every school and that every plan meets the requirements of the law, that citizen could appeal this Board decision to the King County superior court. Big deal, you might think. Well, it is a big deal. You see, the district's basic education allocation, about $188 million, is predicated on the fulfillment of WAC 180-16-220. If a citizen appeals the Board decision to the county superior court within 30 days of the Board action, therer is a risk that the court could find merit in the appeal. That is, if the court determines that there isn't a plan for every school or if the court finds that not every plan meets the minimum requirements of the law, the court might invalidate the Board action, thus cutting the district off from state basic education funding - at least until they fulfilled the requirements of the law.

It may well be that - completely different from last year - the District did actually comply with the law this year. If so, then we needn't be concerned. If not, then, through their negligence, the District has invited every disgruntled party in the state to hold a knife to their throat and extort whatever they wish in exchange for dropping the appeal of this Board decision.

I noticed this vulnerability last year and warned both the Board Student Learning Committee and the Chief Academic Officer of the risk. I hope they heeded that warning. I hope that, completely different from last year when, on November 15, 2006, they passed a nearly identical motion, this time the plans are really there and they really meet the requirements.

But as I've mentioned above, I've written to Ms Santorno and she assures me that everything is in proper order this year. That's a good thing, because otherwise she will have put the District is terrible jeopardy. Wow! Thanks to having a real professional in the role of CAO, Seattle Public Schools has dodged a bullet. We don't have to fear that CEASE will appeal the decision and refuse to drop the appeal until Dr. Drake is reinstated at Marshall and plans to close Marshall repudiated. We don't have to fear that Chris Jackins will appeal the decision and press it until the Board abandons plans to tear down old schools. We don't have to fear that the Pathfinder PTA will appeal the decision and demand that the Board allocate BEX III money to renovate a school building for them. We don't have to worry that Stefan Sharkansky will appeal the decision and demand the dismantlement of the Equity and Race Relations office.

Believe me, there are a lot of people who would love to hold a knife to the District's throat. Thanks to Ms Santorno's work to bring the District into compliance with this law, we don't have to worry about this vulnerability any more.

Inappropriate Maturity Expecations

Dan Dempsey sent me a link to a very interesting article in the New York Times on children's behavior and learning: Bad Behavior Does Not Doom Pupils, Studies Say.

I found the whole article fascinating, but my favorite quote was:
“I think these may become landmark findings, forcing us to ask whether these acting-out kinds of problems are secondary to the inappropriate maturity expectations that some educators place on young children as soon as they enter classrooms,” said Sharon Landesman Ramey, director of the Georgetown University Center on Health and Education, who was not connected with either study.

One of the reasons I love my daughters' school (Pathfinder K-8), is because the teachers have appropriate maturity expectations for the children in their classes. The expectations are not low --- in fact I think they are quite high --- but they are appropriate and grounded in research on what is developmentally appropriate for small children.

For example, the kids in the Bat clan (my daughter's Kindergarten class), are expected to show respect and kindness towards each other and towards the teacher (the fabulous Kelly Riggle Hower), which in my opinion is one of the most important thing kids can learn in the first year of school. There are consequences for not treating others well, but, as my daughter says, "Kelly is not mean when she tells kids to stop." Kelly does not belittle children for their behavior, use shame to attempt to control behavior, label them, or, as is frequently the case in other classes I have observed, take away recess time as a consequence, since what many of these children desperately need is a chance to get their energy out and move their bodies around.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Simple Majority -- Will it Pass?

I just checked the latest election results, and the "Yes" votes now only trail the "No" votes by 2620 votes.

I'm betting that when all the King County results are counted, the initiative will pass. See the Simply Better Schools website for updates and information.

Seattle Council PTSA

From the SPS Schoolbeat newsletter:

The Seattle Council PTSA invites the community to its general membership meeting Monday, November 26. Tracy Libros, Enrollment and Planning Manager, Seattle Public Schools, will share the District’s plans for the next phase of the new Student Assignment Plan.

Also, guest speaker Ortencia Santana, membership chair of the Beacon Hill PTA, will share some of Beacon Hill’s approaches to increasing family involvement in multicultural communities. Santana has been recognized on a statewide level for her accomplishments in family involvement.

Child care and language interpreters will be provided at the meeting. For more information, contact the Council’s office at (206) 364-7430 or e-mail info@seattlecouncilptsa.org
Seattle Council PTSA General Meeting
Monday, November 26
6:30 - 7 p.m. – informal networking
7 - 9 p.m. – general meeting
John Stanford Center
2445 Third Ave. S.

Post-election News

From the SPS Schoolbeat newsletter:

The formal swearing-in ceremony for these Peter Maier, Sherry Carr, Steve Sundquist and Harium Martin-Morris is scheduled for Wednesday, November 28, 6-7 p.m. in the auditorium at the John Stanford Center. All are welcome. The first meeting of the newly elected Board is Wednesday, December 5. Carr, Maier, Martin- Morris and Sundquist will join Directors Michael DeBell (District 4); Mary Bass (District 5); and Cheryl Chow (District 7). Wednesday, November 14 will be the last meeting at which the current Board will preside. About 7:30 p.m., the Board will take a short break for refreshments and to allow outgoing Board members Dr. Brita Butler-Wall, Darlene Flynn, Sally Soriano and Irene Stewart to be honored for their dedicated service to the students of Seattle.

From the PI:
"House Joint Resolution 4204 has netted 690,580 votes statewide, or 49.9 percent, according to the Secretary of State's Office. There are an estimated 178,168 ballots left to count."

We can only hope those last ballots will be enough to send Simple Majority off the ballot and onto the Constitution.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Internet and Students

I organized a parent education night at Roosevelt and we had, as our first speaker, a parent who is also a psychologist that specializes in teens and electronic addiction. It turned out to be less of a talk and more a guided discussion. It was great because many of us had the same issues about video games, ipods, cell phones and internet use (interestingly, tv never came up). The point was raised that our children have been born into an electronic world and never known differently (unless they were Amish - even kids without computers in their homes encounter them at school). For them, these items are like appendages.

What is troubling to me is the long-term ramifications of some of the uses of these items. If you own a cell phone (or your child does), there is also likely a camera in it. Anyone can be shot anywhere at anytime doing almost anything and zip! There it goes up on a blog or MySpace or Facebook. And once it's on the Internet, it may be impossible to know where else it is posted or how long it will float around.

I saw that a London newspaper had found out that either Facebook or MySpace (I forget which) has a page where girls and young women are posting the worst pictures of themselves and their friends drunk. In bushes, half-clothed or passed out in bathtubs. This is the kind of thing that can hurt a kid trying to get an internship or a job or even college admission (and yes, people in charge of those areas do look on Facebook and MySpace if they are having a hard time making a decision).

And the current worst example of all? The UW student in Italy who is now accused of collaborating in her roommate's murder at the hands of the student's boyfriend and boss. (The details are all very sketchy and change daily. It is so sad for all the parents.) This girl had a blog and was on both MySpace and Facebook. The result is that everyone who was listed as a "friend" has been contacted by reporters (even if they didn't even know her). The saddest part is things she wrote are now being dissected for clues.

It's ironic that we've had arguments here over signing or not signing your name. Our kids may be putting out photos and video and information about themselves that may hurt them someday. I haven't been keeping up with current parenting magazines or books but I hope there are warnings out there because this a very different world than when we grew up.

Friday, November 09, 2007

No, Thank You Brita

This editorial by Director Brita Butler-Wall appeared in today's PI. Well-said, Brita.

Special Education Audit Report

This article on Special Education in SPS appeared in today's Times.

Interpreting the School Board Election Results

Since Wednesday morning, I have been having conversations with people about the election results. And when it comes to the School Board election results, which are of particular interest to me because I have gotten to know many of the people involved, I have spent a fair amount of time in discussion about the "meaning" of the results.

I didn't find the results a surprise, given the primary results, the buzz, and the media endorsements. But I did find some of the specific numbers and margins of victory surprising. For example, I find the number of votes David Blomstrom received alarming. How could 18,562 people (and still counting) vote for him? Are those the voters who haven't read anything about a candidate and just choose based on name? And the margin of victory of Steve Sundquist over Maria Ramirez also surprises me. Everyone I talked with had high opinions of both of the candidates, and I expected the result to be much closer, although I guess the current general election margin (61% to 39%) is actually smaller than it was in the primary (50% to 23%).

I hope that all three of the intelligent and principled losers in the School Board races---Maria Ramirez, Sally Soriano and Darlene Flynn---will stay active in Seattle School politics. Their activist voices are extremely important to ensure a balance in the discussion about our public schools. (Of course, the same can be said for Brita Butler-Wall and Irene Stewart, who didn't run for re-election.)

To read another person's interpretation of the School Board election results, read former Board member Dick Lilly's piece in Crosscut today, Why voters expelled the Seattle School Board class of 2003.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Update on NCLB

This article about the NCLB renewal legislation appeared on Tuesday in the NY Times. Someone had asked on a previous thread about what would happen if renewal legislation wasn't passed.

"It passed Congress with bipartisan support in 2001 and will remain in effect even without Congressional action.

But the administration and Democrats in Congress had repeatedly promised to make important changes to it this year, including some that would alter judging student performance.

Despite dozens of hearings, months of public debate and hundreds of hours of Congressional negotiation, neither the House nor the Senate has produced a bill that would formally start the reauthorization process."

And the future?

"Speaking of reauthorization, Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education in Washington, said, “It’s dead for this year.”

“The more things move into the presidential election year,” Mr. Hartle added, “the more the long-term fate of any reauthorization bill becomes problematic.”

So it stays in place, warts and all.

News From Seattle Council PTSA

Legislative Roundtable
November 15, 6:30-8:30pm
Hamilton International Middle School
(registration and light dinner); 7pm program
Come sit down at a table with your district legislators and discuss key education issues! Registration starts at 6:30pm with the program beginning at 7pm including a mix of panel discussions and small groups by legislative districts. Refreshments. Also be sure to mark your calendars for WA State PTA Focus Day, February 13, 2008 (in Olympia). More information to follow.

(This might be a good time to follow-up with legislators after the failure of the Simple Majority Amendment and ask where do we go from here.)

School-Family Partnership Advisory Committee seeks new members
Nomination deadline extended to Nov.16

Click here to download a nomination form or here for a description of the committee.

Special Education Program Fair
December 1, 9am-12:30pm
Meany Middle School
(301 – 21st Ave E, 98112).
The fair will consist of workshops on Seattle District’s special education services and policies (e.g. program placement, school assignment, riser process, IEPs, ITPs, WASL/WAAS, and graduation requirements). Numerous vendors representing related services will also be on hand to share their information. The Seattle Special Ed PTSA, along with Boyer Children’s Clinic, the UW’s Experimental Education Unit (EEU), and the Seattle School District’s Special Education Services Department are sponsoring this event. The Program Fair is free and no advanced registration is required. Childcare will not be provided. Translation services are available but must be requested by November 15th.

Everyday Math Family Letters on-line:
The 2007 Edition Family letters are different from the ones you find on the main wrightgroup.com website. Here’s a link provided by Bernardo Ruiz from the District to the 2007 Edition Family Letters:

School Board needs a new bylaw

Sometimes when you make a mistake you get away with it. Sometimes you get really lucky and your mistake results in a benefit. Usually, however, when you make a mistake it costs you.

The School Board made a mistake and, if they don't fix it, we will all pay for it.

As a result of Tuesday's election, every member of the Board Student Learning Committee will be leaving the Board at the end of the year. There is no excuse; allowing a committee to consist entirely of Board members who all have the same term of office is just bad planning. This time it will result in a number of losses.

First, all of the Committee's work in progress will be lost. There is no reason to believe that the new committee members will complete the work of the current committee.

Second, all of the Committee's momentum will be lost. The new Committee members will have to start from a dead stop. They will have to set new priorities, generate a new workplan, and start new initiatives all from scratch halfway into the school year.

Third, and perhaps the highest cost of all, all of the experience and institutional memory of the previous committee will be irretrievably lost. In the past year the Student Learning Committee members learned - first hand - why we needed a Program Placement Policy. I seriously fear the consequences of that loss. They learned an critical lesson about Student Transformation Plans - they should seriously fear the consequences of that loss. They learned about Special Education, student discipline, Occ Ed, math curricula, and any number of esoteric details about the state EALRs, GLEs, and graduation requirements. All of this will be lost if the Board doesn't take steps to preserve it.

I suggest two remedies, one to address the immediate problem and one to prevent future such errors.

First, continuing Board members who think they might serve on this committee next year should get together with current Committee members and review the Committee's workplan, minutes, and recent experiences. While there is no replacement for first-hand experience, we must do what we can to keep the momentum and the lessons.

Second, the Board should establish a bylaw which precludes having a committee made entirely of members with the same term of office.

The Board can fix this before it is too late. I hope they do.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Texas School Blog Sued by District

Thanks to Dorothy for passing along this item about a woman in Texas with an education blog who is getting sued by her district for saying bad things about administrators. To whit:

"The postings accuse Superintendent Lynne Cleveland, trustees and administrators of lying, manipulation, falsifying budget numbers, using their positions for “personal gain,” violating the Open Meetings Act and spying on employees, among other things.

Tetley (the blogger) said the postings were opinions only."

What's interesting is who they are threatening to sue:

"Feldman (the district's lawyer) cited 16 examples of what he says are libelous postings. Half were posted by Tetley; the other half were posted by anonymous users."

I'm assuming he'd have to
get a subpoena for who the anonymous posters were in order to sue them . From what people here have said about their wish to remain anonymous, well, there's anonymous and there's the force of a subpoena.

It clearly depends on how she stated her opinions but I'm amused that this district seems to forget we have a First Amendment.

On a more serious note, just yesterday the CEO of Yahoo got raked over the coals in a Congressional committee meeting because Yahoo gave the Chinese government the names of two users who were sending anonymous e-mails about the actions of the Chinese government. Both those users have been jailed for 10+ years. The CEO apologized profusely but said Yahoo had to obey a country's laws. (Well, either that or how about not doing business with them? Oh wait, that's a billion people; cha ching!)

Middle Schools in Seattle

Conventional wisdom in Seattle is that there are some very good elementary schools, and some very good high schools, but that middle schools are problematic (perhaps with the exception of Eckstein). I certainly know several families who have sent children to public school in Seattle for K-5 and 9-12, but have gone private for middle school.

If you have concerns about middle schools in Seattle and want to have conversations with others who share your concern, Communities & Parents for Public Schools (CPPS) of Seattle is offering you that chance.

I received the following notice from Stephanie Jones, Strategic Organizer for CPPS of Seattle:
I’m looking for parent representatives from across the city and from different types of schools, to join a study group that CPPS is forming about middle school education in Seattle – defining what a high quality middle level education should look like; what Seattle does or doesn’t do to support parents’ visions of high quality middle school; and how to engage parents and community members in discussions about improving our middle schools.

Scheduling is the hardest part, so forgive the short timeline, but we are scheduled to Meet initially EITHER on Tues., November 13th at 6:30 pm OR Sat. Nov. 17th Between 11:45 and 1:45 – location TBD. I will have opportunities for folks to participate beyond the group if they cannot make the first meeting, or would like to engage in follow-up discussions. Hopefully, we’ll launch an online discussion, as well as some community forums in early 2008.

Interested folks should contact Stephanie Jones at stephaniej@cppsofseattle.org or by phone at 206/604-4408. I am eager to hear people’s perspectives, regardless of whether or not they can immediately participate."

Mike Riley Leaving Bellevue

Big news from the Bellevue School District this morning --- Mike Riley has resigned as Superintendent.

While I admired the fact that Mike Riley was able to create significant change in a short period of time (which is not easy to do in any large bureacracy), I know several Bellevue teachers personally who will be happy to see him go.

His implementation of a lock-step curriculum that took away much of teachers' creativity and freedom has frustrated teachers.

Elections: Open Thread

Am I surprised by the outcome of the SB races? Not really. I had thought that the incumbents' races might actually be worse losses than they were. I'm amazed that many people voted for Harium's opponent.

I am sad that the Simple Majority didn't pass. What it means, to me, is that we have to get the Legislature to do its job so that the levies are not life or death for our district. It's just too much of a dark cloud to live under.

We now are facing a whole line-up of new faces in our district in senior management, both elected and hired. Now is the time for compromise and consensus and clarity in vision as we move forward.

P.S. By the way, no matter what the person's background is professionally, nothing is like sitting on the Board. I've talked to enough Board members and that's what they all say. There is a learning curve to everything. I'd say Sherry is the one to be in the best place to hit the ground running as her background points to knowing this district better than the other 3 newly-elected candidates. Like the superintendent, every new Board member needs a honeymoon period.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

And They're Off!

I voted first thing this morning and it's probably the last ballot I will be able to cast at a polling place. No one else was voting but my husband and me.

I'm going to a Sherry Carr event tonight. If anyone else goes to another SB candidate event, let us know how it goes or if you saw a crowded polling place.

As I mentioned before, SB races tend to have far lower votes than, say, City Council. It'll be interesting to see what the turnout is for SB.

Good luck to all the candidates.

Another Way to Help SPS

Nicole Brodeur's column in the Times highlighted yet another way to help a good program benefiting SPS students. I recall a thread asking what we could do to support our school system.

"Or maybe you can get involved with 826 Seattle.

The Greenwood writing lab, founded by author Dave Eggers, not only welcomes help at its after-school program, it sends its volunteers right into the classrooms to sit beside students and see, firsthand, what's going on in the schools."

One interesting thing:

"The program has 830 people waiting to volunteer, and 230 active volunteers who help some 35 kids through their homework every day. The seven 826 chapters in the country are named for the original chapter's address: 826 Valencia St. in San Francisco."

I wish we could funnel some of those 830 people into the school system somehow if they are volunteering to work with students.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Good Homework Advice

I saw this article, Winning the Homework Wars, in this month's Seattle Woman magazine. It has some good thoughts about homework including:

-time of day to do homework (for teens)
-having them put due dates for large projects/tests on a calendar in a prominent place so you can hold them accountable without saying a word
-turning it in (I have experienced this...a lot.

It's an article worth reading.

Pop Quiz!

Emily Heffter's reporter's notebook on the SB races has a quiz to help you figure out which candidates align with your views. I wish it had been out sooner because I think it's a good basic guide to picking a candidate (albeit in a more shallow way than you might want).

Well That's One Way To Look At It

The Times, on Election Eve, had this editorial. Their take is that yes, there is a few big-money donors to some campaigns but that's because we're the biggest district in the state. Oh and thanks for explaining that to us because it had been quite a mystery.

"Contrasted with two years ago when a $4,500 campaign contribution represented a high mark, the $5,000 and $10,000 checks written this year to unseat two incumbents and elect two others stand out. But a scroll through the Washington Public Disclosure Commission's Web site reveals how much people care about the schools. A few big checks are heavily outweighed by hundreds of contributions in the $10, $25 and $50 range from people with a vested interest in the city schools.

Money can signal the intrusion of special interests into politics. There are no contribution limits for School Board races. But there's nothing alarming, here. The $500,000 raised so far by seven candidates vying for four board seats is a mark of Seattle's stature as the largest district in the state and one central to the health of this region."

There's nothing alarming here. Just a few people giving a lot of money to a district they care about. Now. Not 4 years ago or 3 years ago.

I think that the Times is being a little disingenuous here which is odd because they usually use blunt force to get their point across.

But it's pretty much out of anyone's hands now but the voters. It will be interesting to see a new Board (how new is anyone's guess) in action especially with a shift to a possible majority male Board.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Two Court Cases May Spur Legistature To Fund Education Realistically

Interesting front page story in the PI this morning about another case about education funding in Washington State.

"A King County judge ruled Friday that the way the state doles out salary money to school districts is uneven and unconstitutional, potentially forcing the Legislature to revamp how it funds education -- and giving a boost to the movement to increase school funding in the state."

As many of you may know our funding system is based from 1977 parameters and obviously, things have changed since then.

"The Federal Way lawsuit, filed a year ago, maintained that there are serious disparities in how the state reimburses school districts for salaries. Some districts are allotted higher salaries for staff positions, while neighboring districts inexplicably received lower amounts for the same positions.

Unlike another pending lawsuit over education funding, the Federal Way case doesn't challenge whether the state is providing enough money, but claimed that its distribution is unfair."

And this from the judge's ruling:

"Under the state's current education funding system, schools receive salary money "based upon a discredited and unconstitutionally funded system of 30 years ago," Judge Michael Heavey noted in his ruling. "There is no rational reason to continue this."

Thank you Judge Heavey.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Seattle Public Schools names CFO - Seattle PI


Don Kennedy has been hired as the chief financial and operations officer for Seattle Public Schools, joining the district's new superintendent, with whom he previously worked.

The role combines responsibilities that had been split between two jobs. Kennedy will oversee the district's business operations, including enrollment and planning, facility services and capital projects. He also will supervise the district's finance department.

Since 2004, Kennedy had been the chief financial and administrative officer for the Charleston County School District in South Carolina, the district previously headed by Seattle's Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. He began his career as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force, and later worked as a training analyst, instructor and finance manager for Boeing. His first day on the job was Thursday.

Union Funding and "Who Are Those Kids"? in SB Races

Emily Heffter's reporter's notebook on the SB races had some interesting blurbs. One is about where the other source of larger donations comes from (the first being venture capitalists/business leaders), namely unions. The incumbents received much of their donations from unions except for the SEA which gave to Peter Maier.

The other story is about who the kids are in photos on the candidates' literature. Frankly, I was kind of surprised because I always (naively?) thought they were candidates' children or children of friends. Turns out on both Steve Sundquist and Peter Maier's literature at least one photo is a stock photo taken from the Internet of anonymous kids (they each have one with local kids who they may or may not know). Sherry Carr's photo includes her daughter and other kids and Maria Ramirez knows the kids in her photo. (One thing interesting about Sherry's photo is the use of older kids; it's nearly always elementary aged kids. Maybe that's the cute factor.)

No big deal but something new to learn about campaigns.