Monday, November 19, 2007

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).


Anonymous said...

Actually, the longest lasting of our alternative/progressive schools were started in the early 70s - AS1, Orca, NOVA, AE2. I believe TOPS, COHO/NOMS (now Salmon Bay), and AAA were started in the early 90s because of massive parent organization and a responsive school board.

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting about NOVA is their latest reported SAT scores....606 verbal, 531 Math. I believe that NOVA is the only highschool in SPS to break 600 on Verbal. (Garfield close at 589 verbal.)

SAT scores for all highschools can be found at the bottom of their annual reports.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So what happened to AAA? My impression is that it was community-generated and yet it has never seemed to work out.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the AAA??? I don't understand how a school could make a specific race it's area of focus??? It is almost discriminatory and certainly not diverse, in that a White,
Asian or Hispanic student would not be drawn to this program. Not even middle class or affluent African American families are drawn to the program because of it's very very low performance. I just don't get it.

I can't imaging opening a European American School or a Caucasian American School. Talk about the race words that would be thrown around. The district would instantly be labeled as a racist or institutionally racist district, and it would probably get national media attention. So what gives with the AAA?????

Anonymous said...

I have never thought that average scores tell you very much at all, unless they're incredibly low or incredibly high. I'd much rather see score profiles -- what percentage of students scored at various levels on the test. I suspect that Garfield has a much bigger range of scores than NOVA does -- many more at both the low and high ends.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about Coho/NOMS or AAA, but TOPS was founded in 1976 as The Garfield Area Option Program, became "TOPS" (The Option Program at Stevens) in 1980, and moved to Seward and became a K-8 in 1991.

"Escuela Latona," (AEIII) was one of the earliest alternatives (1974), but Latona seems to have lost their alternative status when they became the International School (with their very nontraditional curriculum). That seems strange to me.

About test scores--They pretty much reflect the education level of the kid's mother. Value added data is much more interesting--but I don't know if Seattle does a good job of calculating that.

Charlie Mas said...

I think the day is coming when the District has to look seriously at the AAA and decide whether or not this experiment is working and whether or not it merits continuation.

It appears to me that the AAA is having just enough success at the elementary level but not nearly enough at the middle school level.

I would propose that the school be re-cast as a K-5 and moved to TT Minor. The AAA building would make an excellent home for The New School, which could be expanded to fill it. The Southshore building could then be used as comprehensive 6-8 middle school.

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts:
1) SAT results tell very little; our state has a 53% participation rate. Kids who would score low generally don't take it. Apply this thought to Seattle data when attempting to compare High Schools - also take a look at who comes in the door in grade 9. In general magnet schools score better because they are magnets. I call it the "Julliard effect". If you accept only the top 3% of those who apply, your graduates will be darn good.

2) AAA uses in math the same poor pathetic Math curricula as the rest of the district. When I interviewed for a job there and Principal Carter asked me during the job interview about data driving instructional decision making. I gave the following response. The likelihood of raising scores with so many disadvantaged learners using Everyday Math and CMP is very remote. He informed me that AAA would be using Everyday Math and Connected Math Project. Singapore Math is not mentioned as part of the curriculum in their literature for parents and prospective students.

Until places like AAA choose curricula and practices that will bring their students greater success, their success rate will be far below optimal.

Dr. G-J's thrust for standardization in math is a tremendous disservice to AAA children and families.

Anonymous said...

I have to say hat I like the new Everyday Math curriculum that they are using in elementary school now. It seems much more standard and traditional. My son is finally "getting" math, without me having to re-teach him the what he was supposed to have learned in school by way of the convoluted Terk Math.

Although not perfect by any means, I think Everyday Math is a HUGE step up from Terk.

I'm not crazy about Connected Math, that they do in MS, and in fact, my son who is in all honors classes is having a hard time in math, so much so that we have to get a tutor to decipher the workbook for him (and us sometimes).

Anonymous said...

Anon at 7:34 AM said:

.....convoluted Terk Math.

Although not perfect by any means, I think Everyday Math is a HUGE step up from Terk.

Agreed --- now if we could only advance above the 2 worst.

The Texas State Board of education recently reviewed 9 third grade math books. It found Everyday Math grade 3 the worst of the nine and refused to approve it or fund its use in Texas. You guessed it TERC was not one of the nine, it had been rejected much earlier in the process.

It is interesting how when Seattle picks math books most aligned with OSPI math standards they are uniformly poor.

To improve education in Washington vote in Dr. Rich Semler in Nov 2008 and say good-bye to Dr. Bergeson.

Seattle needs its alternative schools and more attention to student needs.


Anonymous said...


"worst" is in the eye of the beholder. My son is doing GREAT in math this year, and I think it is due to the new curriculum and it's stronger traditional foundation. It makes sense to him (and to me) and is worlds better than Terk. What specifically do you not like about Everyday Math, and please I am not a math teacher so if you could speak in terms that a parent would understand I would appreciate it. Please be specific about what you don't like, and what would be better. Thanks.

Jet City mom said...

Summit was started in the mid 80s and recently families who have had children enrolled since then, only now have an "empty nest"


Garfield actually has many kids taking the SAT- including my daughter who has accomodations. It is required to play on the football team & they have all students take the SAT or PSAT beginning in 9th grade.

I also find it stunning that we are using curriculum that has been rejected in Texas. They are not known for their selectivity.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon at 8:43AM,

Too many topics per year. Not enough time on a topic before moving to the next topic. Does not present long division. The lattice method of multiplication is not extensible, it goes nowhere as it can not be extended to algebraic and calculus connections.

What grade is your child in?

Also in districts that use Everyday Math in WA ITBS scores in 2005 were much lower at the grade 6 level than at the grade 3 level the drop was greater than the State wide drop.

This book does not prepare students very well for success in a solid high school math curriculum.

The grades 1 though 3 foundation is extremely important for later success.

Now this is working well for your child. What in particular do you like about Everyday Math?

My major concern is that if you look at a Singapore grade 5 book and an Everyday math grade 5 book. One book looks like it will prepare a child for future mathematics that could be high level stuff and the other does not.

By grade 5 an EM student is at least a year behind a Singapore Math student. Singapore has fewer topics per grade level but teaches topics long enough to be learned. The SM bar method is incredibly effective for solving many forms of word problems.

SM has a variety of supplemental materials for those desiring extra challange - the booklet challenging word problems is available at each grade level. For those requiring additional practice their are several supplements available. Singapore also uses manipulatives.

In second grade SM students are currently doing triple digit addition of two numbers.

I am pleased that EM is working much better than TERC Investigations for your child.

If you send me your email I will sent you the fairly short Texas evaluation of the 9 textbooks and you can see what they had to say about EM.


Anonymous said...

In addition to the above.

Many parents think there child is doing great in math all the way through school. But reach a different conclusion when that same child is placed in a low level remedial class upon entering college.

I am reminded of the child who was an 11th grader in Napier's Honors Chem class. The father came in and complained that his child was an A and B student in pre-calculus. Napier's response was that may well be but he does not know enough algebra to do basic chemistry.

The controversy was settled when Napier wrote 3 equations on a paper and handed it to the 11th grader who could work none of them.

At that point the father decided to have Richard tutor the 11th grader after school in Algebra as they were at that time expecting their child to go to college and be successful.

Given the current State wide testing program in place by OSPI we have no idea if kids really know any math or not.

Many schools rate the teaching staff on the grades they give rather than the grades the students earn. Grade inflation is rampant.

Remember that 50% of recent high school graduates can not place above the equivalent of high school math one at Seattle Central Community College.

Doing great in terms of a grade may or may not reflect a level of math achievement.

Try downloading placement tests for free from Singapore Math at


to find out what your child knows.

Good Luck.


Anonymous said...

Dan, if your view of second grade math is being wowed when a student is doing triple digit addition, I guess I question what you think math is all about. Computation is what SM teaches, not mathematics. The Math-a-Minutes my kids were doing in the 80's in Seattle Schools were about the same thing. They were very good at arithmetic, knew all their facts. What they don't have to this day is a love of the beauty of mathematics as a system of fascinating patterns.

Anonymous said...

Why does everyone rag on AAA, and clamor for closing it, but not a peep goes to a place like Orcas which is going to expand to a K8?

As near as I can tell, Orca gets rave reviews. ORCA is moving up with a whopping 19% pass all 3 subjects in 4th grade this year. At AAA, the 3 subject pass rate is 15%. (more or less the same). Clearly, people choosing alternative schools care about something other than test scores.

If it's okay to have a school like Orcas with an environmental, wholistic (or whatever it is) focus... why is it somehow a huge problem to have a school with an African American heritage focus?

Anonymous said...

I know.....how about a school with a Caucasian focus? How about a female focus?? How about a Christian or Jewish focus?? How about a sexual orientation focus??

See where I'm going?

Anonymous said...

Um yeah, I got it that you don't like African American schools. We already have lots of Caucasian focused public schools. There are lots of Girl's schools and Hebrew Schools. A new public Hebrew school opened this year in FL. There are public Arabic focused schools. Yes, NYC has a public gay high school. It doesn't mean others can't attend these schools. I don't hear any crying. Lots of alternative school have mediocre or worse test scores. No crying about them either.

So again, what's the beef with AAA????

Beth Bakeman said...

Personally, I don't have any issue with the mission or focus of the AAA. I think an African-American focused alternative school is a good idea as long as it is meeting the needs of these students well. And I don't think test scores give an accurate picture of that.

I believe that for AAA, as with any alternative school, success should be measured in large part by enrollment numbers. Since no students get mandatory assignment to alternative schools, and since alternative schools exist, by definition, to meet a need that isn't being met by the traditional schools, I believe enrollment is one accurate measure of how "successful" the school is.

Here are the AAA enrollment numbers (excluding the preschool) over the last ten years. I used November data because that is after the allowed deadline for transferring between schools:

- 1998: 465
- 1999: 446
- 2000: 515 (year of move to new building)
- 2001: 502
- 2002: 490
- 2003: 480
- 2004: 396
- 2005: 421
- 2006: 354
- 2007: 352

The decline in enrollment numbers are why I am concerned about the AAA. I don't know the school well enough to know why the numbers are declining or what is going on at the school. But I hope that someone at the district does and is looking into correcting the problems.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Alternative School History (sans current politics and controversial leadership), here is the history of John Marshall from the District website (putting Marshall's inception around 1976, as People's School #1)

"People’s School No. 1 was an alternative program for high school
students who had dropped out or had been suspended from regular high school or junior high school. In its first year, the school was located at St. Margaret’s School on west Queen Anne Hill. The second year found the school on the top of Queen Anne at the site of a former Seventh Day Adventist school called the Seattle Junior Academy. Approximately 130 students were enrolled in the school. All-school meetings were held to plan for school needs and, through them, students had a say in running the school. The program moved to Interlake in fall 1976 and
remained there until spring 1981.
....From 1979–80 through 1981–82 Indian Heritage High School was
located at Marshall. When Interlake closed in June 1981, People’s School No.1 program moved to Marshall where it was renamed Marshall Alternative Secondary School. That basic alternative program offered students a chance to work in a less rigid setting.
In September 1982, a reentry program was added at Marshall for
students suspended from regular high schools. In May 1983, the district proposed moving reentry programs from Addams and Holly Park
Housing Project to Marshall to form a single program. The district also located a program for pregnant girls there because over 100 north end girls had dropped out of school, rather than go all the way to a similar program at Sharples in south Seattle. Marshall “gives them a
chance to re-evaluate, learn from their mistakes, acquire survival skills and to start building a future” while their children are cared for in on-site daycare. Marshall provided a less structured, more open environment in which the staff worked to address the individual needs of the approximately 350 students in the five programs. Classes averaged about 18 students.In 1988 more alternative programs were moved into Marshall from Sharples because students from Franklin had moved into that building while their school was being renovated.
Today, Marshall offers a program for teenage parents called GRADS, which stands for Graduation, Reality, and Dual Role Skills. It also houses a basic skills and enrichment program, placing students in classes based on their ability level on entry assessment tests."