Wednesday, November 07, 2007

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."


Anonymous said...

Beth said ...

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.

Same story in Olympia. In fact there is an academically oriented private Middle School - Nova (grades 6,7,8) located reasonably close to Olympia High School and its feeder Washington Middle School.

Much of the dissatisfaction at the middle school level comes from what parents view as substandard academic programs. Way too much cutting and pasting etc.

Olympia SD against the advice from the Olympia High School Math Department recently adopted Connected Math Program at the middle level. This further alienated parents concerned with academic performance in Middle School.

Actions like these at the middle level may have led some people to vote against the 50% majority. When administration is perceived as ignoring substantive academic improvement, any request for lessening voter control will face increased opposition.

Charlie Mas said...

I have two children in middle school right now (maybe that's a contributing factor to my irratability) and I'm generally pleased with what they are getting from their middle school.

I do wish that the science program were more challenging and consistent and I wish they had access to a broader range of electives. If you're not into instrumental music, Washington's offerings are mighty thin.

When I look at the kinds of classes available at other middle schools - media, world languages, drama, interesting technology classes, etc. - I wonder why Washington, with an enrollment of just over 1,000, can't offer those sorts of classes as well.

When students use a class period as a T.A., that is a sign of failure.

Anonymous said...

Entering Eckstein from Bryant this year, my daughter has been surprised by the lack of rigor in her general ed classes. She has seen no differentiation at all, even though Eckstein has the same ability spread in their classes that Bryant did.

I'm not saying that it is a bad school, just more relaxed than she is use to. And no challenge work or different rubrics available.

Some friends with high schoolers believe that middle school is an academic holding pattern while kids navigate puberty, then it gets more rigorous in high school.

If that is true someone forgot to give the memo to the music teachers. That program is rigorous & differentiated.

Anonymous said...

We had a child at Salmon Bay, and my child came home one afternoon soon after the year started and said "I have academic cabin fever". We didn't find it challenging at all. In fact in 6th grade he was doing work that he had been doing in 3rd and 4th grade. It was awful. Now, Salmon Bay is one of the higher performing schools in the district, and it was dismal. I can't imaging life at Aki Kurose??

Of course I would guess that the APP program at Washington would be satisfying, the problem is that not all kids have access to such a challenging rigorous curriculum.

Anonymous said...

Middle school rigor is a national issue. It used to be very common for teachers (who seemed otherwise intelligent and reasonable) to say with a straight face that middle school could not and should not be made more rigorous because kids going through puberty didn't have the capacity for academics. "Conventional wisdom." NCLB and the need for testing every year has forced some change.

Both the NYT and the Washington Post have done series on middle school and the challenges and changes. I remember one article in particular in the WP about how gifted kids are much happier in middle school now that there's rigor.

Back when I was teaching high school math in the late 1980s, there was lots of buzz about a new math curriculum that was being developed to fix the problem of middle school math, where the traditional textbooks had new material on about 15% of the pages. It sounded wonderful, yet the result was Connected Math. What a disappointment.

I avoided some of the problems by sending my kid to middle school part time and homeschooling the rest. Not being required to be at school until a reasonable hour meant he also avoided the sleep deprivation struggle. Nor did he have to deal with middle school drama full time. In addition, we had him skip a year, only attending middle school for two instead of three years. Now he is attending high school full time and doing fine.

Eckstein has a wonderful 6th grade science program. My son had been in APP elementary school. The Eckstein science class is regular program, not for accelerated or advanced students. Yet, this class has been the only class ever where my son learned something new almost every single day of the year. And they had to think like scientists. Many of the exams were lab practicals.

He did no other formal science curriculum (but we are science literate and science topics do come up in conversation). He took the 8th grade wasl which includes science in which he scored comfortably in the 4 range.

Beth Bakeman said...

I like your combination of strategies for dealing with middle school, Dorothy. I read about one family that sailed around the world for a year to skip one year of middle school for their twin daughters. And I know another family who (more in my budget possiblity) travelled around the country in an RV for a year doing a mobile version of home-schooling.

Anonymous said...


How did you work out your son's school schedule when you homeschooled part time? Did the school agree to put him in the classes he wanted during the time period he was there?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dorothy has more experience on this topic than I do but I did homeschool my son in LA his 8th grade year. I was able to get one class moved so that he ended school early, came home and I would tutor him some time after. I drew on lesson plans online and put in my own SAT vocabulary/Greek mythology/word origins/writing work. Was the school unhappy? Probably but they were gracious (although I doubt they told the district because they would lose money and it was only one class). Was my son unhappy? Somewhat because who wants their mom for a teacher? Did it make our lives easier because we stopped worrying about what he was or was not getting in LA? Tremendously so.

Anonymous said...

My child left a north end middle school after 1.5 years due completely to lack of rigor. If you are not in the Spectrum program, and do not get PHENOMENAL teachers, middle school can be a waste of space in Seattle. Said child went private, to a small catholic school, and we were blown away by the rigor and the quality of education that child received. (The behavior standards were , well, actually enforced as well...what a concept!)

Needless to say, our other children followed the same path. Public Elementary, Public High School, but private middle school.

The district does not seem to be willing to do anything about the dismal middle schools in Seattle.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon at 2:21 PM,

Since this district has zero interest in using their own promotion / non-promotion policies k-8
or the classroom disruption law RCW 28A 600.020 - what is the likelihood for a reasonable middle school environment in SPS?

you on spot on with your comment:
"The district does not seem to be willing to do anything about the dismal middle schools in Seattle."

Anonymous said...

I am hearing from too many parents that there are insufficient Spectrum spots and that the middle school curriculum generally lacks rigor and inspired educational goals. This results in parents seeking private education for the middle school years. We need to grapple with this problem, not ignore it.