Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Story in the Times

There was one of those articles without news in the Times today. The closest thing to news in this story is the suggestion that the District will announce changes in gifted and Special education this spring. Of course, it was also news to me that Director Martin-Morris thinks that the district has been spending a lot of time on gifted kids.

Director DeBell says that the Board is looking for ways to add more Montessori programs and replicate foreign language immersion programs. I find that interesting because it would appear to be outside the Board's charge. Program Placement is the Superintendent's job and the Board is supposed to keep their noses out of the Superintendent's business.

It's very weird to see the Times switch - so obviously - from a loud and vocal detractor of our public schools to a public school booster.

Here's a link to the story: Seattle School Board turns its attention to middle-class families

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oh Those West Seattlites!

Boy, those West Seattle folks are a feisty bunch. Watching the Board meeting last night (in the comfort of my own home, very civilized) was inspiring. Whether you agree or disagree with their stand (and these were folks against the Denny/Sealth plan for varying reasons), they were certainly articulate and made good points. There were teachers, community members and students. One, a cheerleader, certainly earned points for being direct and not the least intimidated by public speaking.

Their reasoning for not supporting the plan?
  • students think mixing high school boys with middle school girls is a bad idea (and this from a boy)
  • Sealth feeling that they are not being treated like other high schools (i.e. West Seattle, Roosevelt, Ballard, etc.), that they are going to lose space and are basically getting very little out of the deal. Some said they'd be willing to wait for funds for their renovation.
  • community members feeling shut out by Facilities staff and wondering why the district won't talk to them (meaning, feeling kind of suspicious about being held at arm's length)
  • lack of an explanation of how a joint campus advances academics which is supposed to be the driver in facilities
Steve Sundquist and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson both took pains to say they are listening, will respond, and there will be a Board work session on this issue before the Jan. 9th meeting. (Although, at work sessions there are no public comments allowed; it's just to hear whatever staff has to say and the Board working it through.) They also both said the Board does have the authority to change the project "if they see the need".

This from the West Seattle blog:

Susan Harmon from the Westwood Neighborhood Council, speaking during the public-comment period, asked the board to delay Denny-Sealth votes until after a meeting WNC is working to organize for late January or early February to examine both the potential impacts of the shared high school/middle school campus concept, and the future of the current Denny land if the project proceeds as currently planned."

I'm sure this request puts the Facilities staff in a knot. It's interesting that so many different people feel like this project was never clearly presented or discussed and now, once again, it's rush, rush, rush by Facilities.

I did let a few of these folks know about what they may be facing in trying to be heard. I was looking at the BEX II and III meeting minutes and found this when they were talking about Hamilton* and the problems with the neighbors:

"The District may engage in mediation with Parks and the activists as long as it’s crafted in a way that doesn’t require consensus. Steve suggests calling it a “facilitated conversation”. The term “mediation” sets up expectations and rules."

Steve is Steve Goldblatt a member of BEX II committee(not a staff member) but staff seemed to concur. I'd guess that lets out compromise and consensus as well.

*Hamilton did come up last night. It turns out the City Examiner turned down the district's proposed placement of the Hamilton gym and it is being revamped in a different direction.

Harium Martin-Morris Blog

One of our newest Board members has a blog. It will be interesting to see as he gets busier if he can keep it up but good for him for making the effort. I hope that the new Board members will try to have regular community meetings as Mary Bass does and as Brita Butler-Wall and Sally Soriano did. It was great to be able to go somewhere in your region and be able to talk to your director.

FYI -Enrolling in SPS

This information appeared in the Seattle Times this morning:

"Open enrollment in Seattle Public Schools for the 2008-09 school year is scheduled from Jan. 22-Feb. 29. During this period, families may register and apply for school for children entering kindergarten in September 2008; for students advancing from elementary to middle school or from middle to high school; for any other students who wish to change schools; or for students who will be new to the district in September.

Students who apply during open enrollment will receive priority assignment for September 2008. Information needed to apply is available at enrollment-service centers or online at www.seattleschools.org/area/eso/story.dxml.

To assist in enrollment, an All-City Kindergarten and Middle School Fair is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 12 at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence, 2445 Third Ave. S., Seattle, and the South and Southeast All Grades School Fair is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 2 at Mercer Middle School, 1600 Columbian Way S., Seattle.

The three enrollment centers are Wilson-Pacific, Building 400, 1330 N. 90th St.; the Bilingual Family Center, Aki Kurose Middle School, Room 105, 3928 S. Graham St.; and the John Stanford Center."

I would add - check high school/middle school/elementary school website for tour times and dates.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Op-Ed from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson

This op-ed appeared in today's Times. It seems to try to lay the groundwork for a new strategic plan. I say try because her 5 steps are somewhat bland. From her piece:

"That's why I've directed the development of a new strategic plan for Seattle Public Schools, initiated with funding from local philanthropists. Our first step is to assess our district's strengths and challenges. We are examining five priority areas that emerged from surveys and interviews conducted to date with key stakeholders:

• Support high-quality teaching and learning;

• Attract and support district talent;

• Drive districtwide efficiency and effectiveness;

• Introduce effective performance management;

• Strengthen relationships with stakeholders and partners.

This diagnostic groundwork will identify successes we can replicate and weaknesses we must address. It will include the findings from academic and operations peer reviews now under way by national experts. It will tap into the knowledge of our teachers, principals, central staff and community members about what is needed to move the entire district to excellence. It will capitalize on the energy and commitment of our new School Board, united in its pledge to academic achievement for all students."

Her use of the word "diagnostic" is a little confusing. I'm assuming she means that from all the conversations with parents and community they got clarity on what are the top items to be accomplished. I'm also troubled by the 4th goal because using the word "introduce" sounds like there has been no performance management ever.

I hope that when she does present her action agenda (I would think after McKinsey does its work) that there are real and recognizable actions.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More WASL News

Both the PI and the Times reported that 657 more kids have passed the reading and writing WASL.

Out of nearly 12,000 students needing to pass the WASL to graduate in 2008, 657 have passed their WASL retakes. "A total of 8,239 students took the WASL in August at 233 sites statewide. That number includes more than 1,000 juniors who passed one or more parts of the test."

From the Times article:

"Counting the August results, there are now 61,178 seniors who've passed both reading and writing on the WASL. That's 84.5 percent of the class, counting only those who are still in school, and look like they'll have enough credits to graduate. About 64 percent have passed math."

Great but that means that almost 4,000 students who needed to retake the WASL didn't. I mean didn't even try. What will happen to them?

As I have mentioned before, 9th graders can take any part of the 10th grade WASL (except the science). Ninth-graders who want to test need to pre-register online or by phone Dec. 10, 2007 through Jan. 14, 2008. Information will be available at www.k12.wa.us/waslregistration. It counts as one of your 5 tries and if you pass, you are done with that section of the WASL.

(By the way, those of you with 9th graders, let us know if your school has made any special plans for student. I've been hearing rumblings about it at Roosevelt and I'd like to know if this is happening elsewhere.)

About the Math WASL - I don't know what all the wringing of hands and pulling of hair by the Governor or the newspapers was about. Kids have to take the Math WASL and pass it OR do some other work. A person at OSPI admitted to me the easiest thing for kids to do is just pass the math WASL. The other options (which I believe the deadline to do is Friday) are as follows:

"For the graduating classes of 2008-2012, students must pass the reading and writing WASL, a state-approved alternative to the WASL or an assessment for students in special education. Students can meet the state’s math requirement by passing the math WASL, a state-approved alternative or an assessment for students in special education, OR, they can continue to earn math credits until they graduate. Students who pass the reading, writing and math assessments earn a Certificate of Academic Achievement or Certificate of Individual Achievement and a high school diploma. Students who fulfill the math requirement by earning math credits do not receive a certificate but do earn a diploma.

For the graduating classes of 2008-2012, students must pass the reading and writing WASL, a state-approved alternative to the WASL or an assessment for students in special education. Students can meet the state’s math requirement by passing the math WASL, a state-approved alternative or an assessment for students in special education, OR, they can continue to earn math credits until they graduate. Students who pass the reading, writing and math assessments earn a Certificate of Academic Achievement or Certificate of Individual Achievement and a high school diploma. Students who fulfill the math requirement by earning math credits do not receive a certificate but do earn a diploma.

The Certificate of Academic Achievement Options are:
Collection of Evidence – Students compile a set of classroom work samples with the help of a teacher(s). Collections for students in Career and Technical Education programs can include work from their program and other classes. The state scores collections two times a year.
Fee Waivers are available for eligible students to take the approved PSAT, SAT, ACT and AP assessments.
SAT or ACT – Students may use their math, reading or English and writing scores on college readiness tests.
Minimum math scores: SAT – 470; and ACT – 19. Minimum SAT and ACT reading and writing scores: State Board of Education to determine by Dec. 1, 2007, or earlier, if possible.
– Right now, students may submit a math score of 47 as an approved alternative. After Aug. 31, 2008, the PSAT will no longer be an approved alternative.
Advanced Placement – Students may use a score of three or higher on select AP exams. Math: Calculus or statistics; Writing: English language and composition; Reading: English literature and composition, macroeconomics, microeconomics, psychology, United States history, world history, United States government and politics, or comparative government and politics
WASL/Grades Comparison– A student’s grades in math courses and/or English courses are compared with the grades of students who took the same courses AND passed the WASL. This option is available to students in 12thgrade. To access this option, a student must have an overall cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 grading scale."

Kids who can pass the SAT or ACT or an AP class or likely to pass the math WASL. I was surprised to learn that over 700 students statewide did some other option besides passing the math WASL. I wonder if OSPI will ever have a breakout of who did, where and which options were used.

Teachers Against McKinsey

This op-ed appeared in today's Times. It was written by two teachers who introduced the resolution to the SEA against the hiring of McKinsey, the consulting firm hired by Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. They take pains to say their argument is not with Dr. G-J but with the firm itself.

It is likely that McKinsey will hold either a couple of public meetings or have some focus groups. If anyone attends, you should let us know.

Monday, December 17, 2007

School Board Agenda and Facilities

From the agenda for the Board meeting on Wednesday:

"The current design for work at Denny Middle School and Chief Sealth High School calls for the replacement of Denny Middle School, built in 1952; the modernization of Chief Sealth High School, built in 1957 and the construction of shared facilities on the existing Chief Sealth High School property. Denny Middle School will be relocated to the Chief Sealth High School campus. New shared facilities will include classrooms, cafeteria and commons.

The current configuration is undergoing review. Whatever configuration is selected, there will not be instructional use of the replaced sections of the schools."

So now we know for sure that the District wants Denny to move to Sealth's campus. This was, again, an issue that was not clear. I'm with Charlie; how much overlap is there for Sealth from the work done on it from BEX II to BEX III?


"The Martin Luther King property is no longer needed for District purposes, and can be declared surplus. If this motion is approved, any disposition of this property will be done consistent with Board policies and will require additional School Board action. Proposed changes to the School Board policy on use of Closed Buildings are being developed for presentation to the School Board in early 2008."

Bye, bye MLK.

The italics are mine but I wanted to highlight that sentence as an FYI.

Can't Connect the Dots

There are a few little things rattling around in my head - nagging detail sort of things that just don't add up or appear contradictory. None of them are very big, but together they seem like a discouraging trend. It all feels like a lack of follow-through and a lack of honesty.

Sealth / Denny Project

* I knew that Sealth and Denny were going to share some facilities, and I thought that was common knowledge. So how come people are now saying that it wasn't?

* Similarly, the work that Sealth is getting isn't a full renovation. I can't say whether I knew that or not, but clearly some other folks thought that it would be.

* As part of the BEX II levy, Sealth got a modernization of the facility to support the school's transformation plan. Scope of work included creation of a new student commons and building entry, renovating the library, upgrading 9th grade classroom for collaborative teaching, creating a multiple use science lab, and remodeling the metal shop area to become the math academy. So how come in BEX III, the District needs to, once again, build a new library and student commons? And I thought I read that BEX III also would re-do the Sealth building entrance - again.

* According to the BEX III schedule in the brochure, the planning and design for the Denny/Sealth project will continue to June 2009 when construction begins. So if there is another year and a half for planning and design, then why all the talk about it being a done deal?

Southeast Initiative

* The last we heard about the Southeast Initiative, the District's commitment to Aki Kurose was going to be "1.0 - 2.0 FTE pending further discussions with the new principal" and the commitment to Cleveland was described only as "2007-08 resource requirements for Cleveland HS are to be determined after more in-depth discussions with the school’s leadership team." So what did the Southeast Initiative actually get for these schools this year?

* There is supposed to be an accountability element built into the Southeast Initiative. The District, in consultation with the schools this past summer, was supposed to set clear objectives for each school in Enrollment Growth, % of First Choice, Increased Academic Achievement, Student and Teacher Climate Survey Results, and Attendance. In addition to these goals for Fall 2010, each school is supposed to have annual benchmarks. So what are these clear objectives for Fall 2010 and what are the annual benchmarks?

Student Assignment Plan

* According to the Timeline for the New Student Assignment Plan, from September to December of 2007, the District staff are supposed to be designing and testing models, analyzing system impacts, conducting reviews by internal stakeholders, and continuing ongoing community engagement. In January to March of 2008 they will develop the initial detailed proposal. There is no mention of designing and testing models or analyzing system impacts after December 2007. So have they already modeled every change that they are considering or will consider?

* In April, when Ms Santorno announced the postponement of the decision to split middle school APP between Washington and Hamilton, she wrote that changes in APP would be part of the new assignment plan. But she also wrote that specific dates and opportunities for involvement would be outlined as part of the process of creating the plan. From that day to this the District has not spoken with the APP Advisory Committee nor with the APP community about changes in the program. There has been absolutely no engagement on this topic at all.

* When the Superintendent gave the Board (and the public) an update on the Student Assignment plan in September, she clearly said that Advanced Learning, bilingual, and special education programs would be on the table for the new plan.

* But in her response to the annual report and recommendations of the APP Advisory Committee, the Superintendent wrote that no near term changes are under discussion or anticipated in APP configuration (the number, size, and location of programs). So does that mean that no changes in APP configuration are part of the new Student Assignment Plan?

* I can't tell. Will the New Student Assignment Plan include changes to APP or not? In April and September they seemed to say that it will. In December the Superintendent clearly said that it will not.

Superintendent's Entry Plan

* Isn't it time that we see something more concrete from the Superintendent? For a person who talks about clear, objective, measureable goals, we've only got a lot of vague ideas so far.

* Isn't she supposed to spill out a whole package of plans for improvement in January?

* She has put the word accountability into just about everything, but I've yet to see anyone held accountable for anything.

* She says that accountability means that Seattle Public Schools understands our data and we use it to set performance targets for the district, school and classrooms. So where are these performance targets? Are they secret?

Community Engagement

* The new Coordinator of Family and Community Engagement is Bernardo Ruiz but his name does not appear anywhere on the District web site for Family Involvement. In particular, it does not appear on the "Contact Us" page. It can only be found on the documents related to the nomination of new member of the School Family Partnership Advisory Committee.

* Speaking of the School Family Partnership Advisory Committee, it is seeking new members and held nominations open through November 16. It has been a month since then, shouldn't we know by now who was selected for this committee?

* Where is the progress on the School-Family Partnership Plan and the Family and Community Engagement elements of the Distict's Strategic Framework? I'm not seeing it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Go Diving and Look What You Find

So I was looking for a BEX III timeline on the district's website and I happened upon the BEX Oversight Committee Meeting Minutes for April of this year. I happened upon a discussion about New School which provides some illuminating information so that we can all be clear on how the District views New School.

"Karin [Nyrop, a committee member] wants to be sure that this design doesn’t in any way compromise the program for the New School. Don [Gilmore, Facilities staff] responded that the building design is very flexible and will accommodate a pre-K-8. This design actually gives the New School more than is in the MOU. The District agreed that this building would be built for District needs. The New School is not a charter school or a publicly run school. It is a District school with additional funding."

This is interesting for several reasons:
1) the "South Shore" project (which in the district's bond/levy brochure doesn't even mention New School) is advertised as a 6-8 to k-8 building. But we all know that New School is preK-8 so now it's being built that way.
2) "this design given the New School more than is in the MOU (memorandum of understanding between the New School Foundation and the district)". We should keep this in mind for future MOU's because then, of course, this becomes the standard for anyone who follows.
3) "The New School is....not a publicly run school...it's a District school with additional funding". What interesting phrasing. I'm trying to ponder what that could mean and why they wouldn't want to call it a publicly run school. Something to query the Legal department about.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Seattle Times Letters to the Editor

This letter to the editor appeared in today's Seattle Times:

"Bootstrap's on the other foot

The problem [of racial disparity] continues after APP into AP (Advanced Placement) high-school classes, another club for white, affluent families.

At least 55 percent of Roosevelt students need a level playing field that children in AP with stay-at-home/"hovercraft"-parents/Laurelhurst-privilege don't think a freaking minute about.

And that's one of the Seattle Public Schools' poster-child schools, Roosevelt. I'm at a boiling point.

I am not anti-APP or anti-AP. I am for opportunities for all and if we have only enough dough to fund one program, I want it to be for the kids falling through the cracks, as I believe the others will do fine in general with their notably larger variety of options.

Ideally, I want individual learning plans and high levels of achievement for each in their own way but, like I said, given that apparently everyone cannot be served, I'll help the most vulnerable first and leave the affluent kids "behind." We all know they'll do just fine.

— Kate Martin, mother of two sons at Roosevelt High School, Seattle

The perspective voiced here reflects a popular sentiment in Seattle.
It is tragically misinformed and misguided.

It refers, unfairly, to APP and AP as a "club for white, affluent families".
While Ms Martin claims that she is "not anti-APP or anti-AP" her other statements belie that claim.

Likewise, she claims to be "for opportunities for all", but then selects a class of students who should not have an opportunity.

It's a good thing that we don't only have enough dough to fund one program. There are hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated to meeting the needs of underprivileged students and $350,000 in state grant money that is spent on APP. AP runs on self-help dollars.

Ms Martin presumes, incorrectly, that "everyone cannot be served" and presumes, incorrectly, that the affluent students will be just fine if they are abandoned by the District.

Final Closure and Consolidation Finance Information

From the district's School Beat:

"Director DeBell provided a summary of the final report on
school closure, which is available at:

Some of the highlights include:
• Enrollment – just over 50 percent of students from closed schools enrolled in the designated receiving schools. Of the remaining 366 students, 154 left the District (a quarter of these were nonresidents).• Capital costs of the move will likely come in just underbudget at $1.5 million, which includes $400,000 to build a teen parent program center at South Lake.
• Long-term capital savings are estimated at $44 million for BTA-type projects and $351 million in levy projects.
• General fund costs were higher than estimated at $927,000.
• General fund savings in the first year, originally estimated to be $2.48 million, are $1.9 million. Savings are reduced because the Marshall building remained open for one more year, and Columbia is being used as the interim site for The New School.
• $1 million of the $1.9 million savings was directed back to the classroom via K-2 libraries, math adoption, and an additional staff member at each of the receiving schools."

The whole report is actually quite illuminating. Some other interesting things about it:

- MLK did the worst in student movement to a receiving school (TT Minor) at 36.2% with Viewlands at 58.3% going to Broadview-Thompson.

-"The original estimate for capital expenditures was between $1,455,000 and $1,495,000. As ofOctober 1, 2007 we had expended $1,077,983.00.1 We expect that number to go up slightly as a few lingering invoices are submitted, however, we still anticipate coming in under budget in the capital arena. The total includes $400,000 to build a new teen parenting program at South Lake to replace the program at John Marshall.
We expect a few additional projects to come out of the FY 2008 budget—we’re estimating $72,000 to install a window at Broadview-Thomson, finish the special education preschool playground at West Seattle Elementary, and complete a library work room build-out at Whitworth. In addition 2008 will see the completion of the greenhouse for Orca, which was a previously scheduled BTA II project."

I had wondered where the money was coming for the teen parenting program at South Lake. It has absolutely no business in this issue or from this pot of money. It should have been in BEX III. Also, this is the first I had heard that the teen parenting program at John Marshall would be closed. I had also advocated for more of the receiving schools to get upgrades from BEX III but they didn't. I'll have ask where this money actually came from. For example, Orca should have lockers if it's a K-8 and that's not reflected here.

-The district is counting on huge capital cost savings in not having these buildings open especially from seismic costs.

-There was a lot of honesty in the document. For example:

"It is clear that, especially in Seattle, where we have contracts that require people to be paid to move and where costs in general are higher, closing buildings is an expensive endeavor. However, these one-time costs are not so great that they detract from the overall savings (both general fund and capital fund) of having fewer buildings to maintain and staff. Honesty in the closure costs, along with an acknowledgment that we are committed to making closure asuccessful process for all involved, will make future budgeting for closures an easier and more transparent process."

It's good they acknowledge this but once again a statement like, "we'll try harder in the future to make things more transparent", gets old.

-I found this interesting:
"The delay in closing the John Marshall building, and the decision to move The New School into the Columbia building while their building was being completed reduced those savings to $1.9 million."
I hadn't known they weren't going to move New School out during their rebuild. That's quite a large cost.

- Problem: "Now, with some time and distance from the process, the principals have had time to reflect and offer suggestions for future school closure processes.
One item that has come up repeatedly is a belief that the process was under-funded and undermanaged."
Solution: "A suggestion made was to dedicate one central staff member to each pair of schools(closed and receiving) and make that person the liaison for the operational aspects of this process."

-More honesty:
"Principals also stressed the need for honesty throughout the process. We appeared too facile inour comments that everything would be better in the new buildings. It is true that with more students the schools can provide more services. However, that is small solace to teachers who are involuntarily removed from an environment they have created and are placed into a new environment with new people and new processes.
Communication throughout this process was relatively poor, in part because no one working on the project had done closures before, and in part because the project was under-funded and under-managed.

I give them points for some real honesty in their assessments. I deduct points for this coming as a surprise; one of the members of the C&C Committee did a report on the closures in the '80s that covered some of this. I'll be interested to see the reaction from different groups when this information is widely disseminated.

(All italics mine.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Plot Thickens

Say what?

As you might recall, when I expressed my concerns over the BEX III list, some said we should just get the money and then talk to the Board because after all they have the power to change the list. Or do they?

Hopping over to my favorite city blog in West Seattle, I see that the West Seattle community is a very feisty bunch. Apparently they had a meeting recently for the Westwood Neighborhood Council and Steve Sundquist said the board was trying to get a legal opinion on whether they (the board) have the legal right to cancel/change the Denny/Sealth project. Steve also said, per the Facilities rhetoric, that time is crucial because of ever-rising construction costs. (I did look this up recently and Seattle falls in the middle of the country for school construction costs. Because of the mortgage crisis, construction costs are likely to go down rather than up.)

Interesting. I would think that the Board would, because they vote the projects, the budgets and hire the superintendent, have the power to change or veto a project. Apparently, many of you thought that too as I recall from the myriad of posts.

The "my way or the highway" stance of district staff seems to not work for West Seattle. They feel hoodwinked by the dual nature of the project and the lack of information. I. with all my research, never found that it was going to create a dual school. So who knew that before the bond was voted on? The principals? Facilities? The Board?

Recall Doesn't Meet Legal Standard

This post was in the blog by David Postman of the Times. As you may or may not recall, a citizen filed a recall petition against 5 School Board members in the wake of school closures. The State Supreme court ruled it did not meet the legal standard for a recall. There was a minor dispute in the opinions, however. It concerned the following:

"But there is disagreement on the court about whether the Seattle School District should have intervened on behalf of the elected board members" "The majority of the court said the district was within its rights to join the lawsuit." However,

"But Justice James Johnson, writing in a concurring opinion signed by Justice Richard Sanders, argues that the school district was essentially using public funds to campaign on behalf of the board members. Johnson said that despite laws against use of public funds for political campaigns, Downing's ruling "allowed the District to accomplish the same end — likely with its limited taxpayer funds."

Go Rainier Beach!

This article appeared in today's PI about efforts to revamp RBHS and get them on the radar for high school choice. These include:

- hiring four extra teachers this year, including a full-time drama teacher and a full-time music teacher

-plans to add more drama, music and dance classes next year to take advantage of the school's state-of-the-art performing-arts center.

-expanding the school's honors and Advanced Placement classes for next fall.

From the article:

The school has also gained notice for its weekly "seventh period" after-school class for sophomores, in which they get extra doses of math, reading and writing to help them prepare to take the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning."

At 374 students they have nowhere else to go but up. They need more numbers as the school is large enough for 1200 although a 750-1000 is probably a good goal.

The posts in the Soundoff area of the article show a lot of mistrust that things could be changing. Some of it is because of the neighborhood and I'd have to agree. It really has problems and that's should be on the City to do something about it. This is one area where the City really could have some power in the outcomes for a school.

Basic Hard Academics

This article appeared in the Times today about Kirkland's International High School. From the article:

"Whatever you call it, the school's 380 seventh- through 12th-graders are performing better than most students in the country. About 95 percent go on to college and 100 percent of 10th-graders meet the standard for the WASL reading and math tests."

What do they take?

"Created in 1997 by a group of parents looking for a smaller educational format, ICS was modeled after Bellevue's International School, which was ranked fifth in the magazine listing. All students take six core subjects the first four years: humanities, international studies, art, math, science and Spanish. Beginning in 10th grade, only honors and Advanced Placement classes are offered."

There are no sports or vocal ed offered; music and drama are offered after school. Sports can be taken through Redmond high school.

"Minority enrollment at ICS is about 2 percent, while disadvantaged student enrollment is 0.5 percent." It's also a 7-12 grade level make-up.

Clearly a school for students who want to work hard. It's open to everyone on a lottery system. It's a bit confusing because Bellevue also has a high-powered international school. It is unclear to me what makes Kirkland an international school; the article doesn't say.

It's housed in a former elementary school (which tells you that short of safety, in the end, good academics can trump a building.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The "New" New Math

This column was in today's Times. Bruce Ramsey was writing about a meeting that State Superintendent Terry Bergeson had with people from the Where's the Math group. It sounds like Dr. Bergeson has heard, loud and clear, from parents but, after reading the column, I have to wonder what will happen if math is taught in multiple ways. Is that harder for the teacher? Confusing for the students?

This is an issue that will likely not affect my child but I know many out there have deep concerns over it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

How easily I get confused

I am really confused now.

In April as she delays the decision to split middle school APP, Ms Santorno commits to providing ample communication and authentic engagement with the APP community when the reconfiguration question comes back within the context of the new student assignment plan.

However, there has been absolutely no communication or engagement in the eight months since she made that commitment. Not a word. So what did she mean by that? I'm really confused by these two apparently irreconcilable facts.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has made it very clear that changes in the size and location of Advanced Learning programs will be part of the new student assignment plan. This is consistent with Ms Santorno's April statement and the inclusion of APP student data on the new Student Assignment plan web site. Possible changes to APP have been discussed at various new student assignment plan meetings.

However, in her response to the APP Advisory Committee's annual report and recommendations, she wrote "At present, no near term changes [in APP configuration] are under discussion or anticipated." So what did she mean by that? I'm really confused by these two apparently irreconcilable facts.

According to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, the District staff have been modeling changes in program size and location for three months. According to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, changes in advanced learning programs have been included in these models. According to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, no changes in APP have even been discussed.

So it appears that changes in APP are off the table for discussion in the new student assignment plan. Does that sound right to anyone?

Maybe I've misinterpreted some of these statements. Maybe this is all abundantly clear, and I'm just easily confused. Can anyone help me to understand?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

US News and World Report Rankings for Puget Sound Schools

U.S. News and World Report came out with its rankings of U.S. high schools in this article. There were 2 Puget Sound schools in the top 100 with a gold ranking. Those were the International School in Kirkland (#12) and Newport High in Bellevue (#44). Five other Puget Sound high schools, including two in Seattle, received silver rankings. Those were Bainbridge, Garfield, Issaquah, Mercer Island and Roosevelt. (The Board honored Roosevelt and Garfield at the last Board meeting.)

The article has many good side articles including their methodology and a good article on a border school in Texas that is doing very well and yet may still get on the NCLB's underperforming list.

The Starting Line is the Finish Line

Very interesting article in the NY Times on a recent study done by Educational Testing Services which administers millions of standardized tests each year including the SAT. From the article:

"What’s interesting about the report — which combines E.T.S. studies with research on families from myriad sources, including the Census Bureau and Child Trends research center — is how much we know, how often government policy and parental behavior does not reflect that knowledge, and how stacked the odds are against so many children. (The study is at www.ets.org/familyreport.)"

Here's the crux of what they found:

"The E.T.S. researchers took four variables that are beyond the control of schools: The percentage of children living with one parent; the percentage of eighth graders absent from school at least three times a month; the percentage of children 5 or younger whose parents read to them daily, and the percentage of eighth graders who watch five or more hours of TV a day. Using just those four variables, the researchers were able to predict each state’s results on the federal eighth-grade reading test with impressive accuracy.

“Together, these four factors account for about two-thirds of the large differences among states,” the report said. In other words, the states that had the lowest test scores tended to be those that had the highest percentages of children from single-parent families, eighth graders watching lots of TV and eighth graders absent a lot, and the lowest percentages of young children being read to regularly, regardless of what was going on in their schools."

Some causes?

"The report describes how much we rely on child care from an early age — half of 2-year-olds are in some kind of nonparental care — and how much worse that care is for poor and minority children. According to the report, poor children are twice as likely to be in low quality care as middle and upper class children, black children more than twice as likely as white children.

And it is black families who rely on day care most: 63 percent, compared with 49 percent of whites and 44 percent of Asians. Says Mr. Coley, “Our day care system may be reinforcing the gap rather than closing it.”

Another way to support parents of young children is paid leave when a child is born, which is routine in most of the world, but not in the United States.

According to Dr. Jody Heymann, director of the Institute of Health and Social Policy at McGill University, 172 of the 176 countries she surveyed this year offer guaranteed paid leave to women who have just had babies. The four that do not? Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United States."

I have always thought parents are the third rail in public education. It is so difficult to talk about because who can be the one to judge another person's parenting? We all know this as a golden rule of parenting because (1) there are so many life situations and (2) who hasn't made a mistake as a parent? But, as a society, maybe we should ask why we have so many single family households and how we can support families in all their forms for the greater good.

An interesting observation appeared at the end of the article by its co-author:

"Mr. Coley believes this kind of government support is necessary if we are serious about closing the gap. “We don’t seem to get it,” he said. “Or maybe we think we can’t afford it, I don’t know.”

I don't know? Sure we know. There are people in this country who are selfish and willing to allow others to slowly (or quickly) fall to the bottom and stay there. We are in a presidential election year. Let's ask some hard questions about what these candidates believe about public education. It is beyond me how Iowa Republicans can say that illegal immigration is their number one concern (which, according to polls, it is). We only have a war on, mortgage failures, a poor health care system and, oh yeah, an education system that may be failing kids because our government doesn't want to support families. We can pay now or pay later in other ways that hurt our country and our society.

AP In SPS High schools

This article appeared in the Times on Friday, detailing AP in SPS high schools and in particular at Cleveland where previously there was none. From the article:

"Departing Bellevue schools Superintendent Mike Riley is known for increasing AP participation by making it a goal that every student in his district would take at least one AP course. Seattle's new superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, has said she has the same goal. To reach it, she's working on spreading AP around, giving more students access to the courses.

"When I say all kids should take AP, I believe students should not be denied access because it's not taught," Goodloe-Johnson said.

A 2007 University of Texas study showed students who took AP in high school earned better grades in college." (I hadn't read this study but a previous one found that students who attempted an AP course in high school did better in college and those who took the test did even better.)

I had been under the impression that Superintendent Riley had given resources and support to students who weren't top students to help them. That has to happen if you want all kids to try an AP class.

It will be interesting to see how Hale will keep its position of no separate AP and Honors classes (except, I think, in math) with what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson wants. We have heard here from parents who have written that they wouldn't want Hale because of the lack of AP. Roosevelt's LA department also doesn't offer AP classes. That is being revisited but it is very preliminary.

From the article:

"Garfield High School has the most AP courses in the district — 15. Any student can take them, but they are offered as part of the district's Accelerated Progress Program. Roosevelt has 11, and Ballard plans to offer 16 this school year, although not all of them have been approved by The College Board."

I did write to Emily Heffter, the reporter at the Times who wrote the article, to let her know that there was no APP in high school but the larger number of offerings at Garfield is because it is the feeder school for those students (if they choose to attend). AP at Garfield is open to all students.

One thing that I would love to see the Alliance or some other group step up to do is pay for the AP tests for low-income students. I believe the College Board, which runs AP, does have a reduced fee but it would be helpful if poorer students had to pay $10 or less or nothing in order to reduce barriers in their heads to attempting these courses.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

West Seattle Working On Talks With District

This article appeared in the West Seattle Herald. It details how one neighborhood was trying to set up talks with the district about long-term planning for the district's properties in the area and Denny/Sealth. It didn't work out but there's disagreement on why. The district is planning one of its own facilitated discussions.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Open Thread: Any Comments or Thoughts?

To start us off, I'm attending the Board of Ed. meeting tonight at North Seattle CC on state graduation requirements. So the questions I have been pondering;

- college-ready versus citizen-ready? Can we really have every student college-ready? Is that too high a goal? What about kids who don't care about being college-ready? Personally, the baseline for me is citizen-ready with the option to be college-ready. As a citizen, you need to know how to take care of yourself. That means applying and interviewing for a job. Being able to manage money and understand net/gross/percentages, etc. Being able to understand the biology of your body and the environment to take care of both. Being able to read, comprehend and do critical analysis of news stories (no matter their source - tv, internet or hard copy). Understanding U.S. and world history so that you know why what goes on in Washington, D.C. matters and how the U.S. and Americans fit into the world and why voting matters.

Then, for those who want to go to college, take the upper level courses to get ready.

-should there be different diplomas? This was mentioned in an article in the PI as something done in other states. I don't know enough myself to comment.

Anyway, lead on with any discussion.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Let's Be Careful Out There

Hale was closed today due to flooding and will remain closed until Wednesday.

Golden Gardens Drive is washed out and a slide swallowed a Subuaru.

Be extra careful out there!

Review of Gifted Programs (not so much)

So it was announced that the review of the gifted programs was completed in an article in today's Times. The article only talks about APP so I wonder if Spectrum or the ALOs were even looked at. Maybe it's only the programs that get state funding that were reviewed. If so, that's not very useful. From the article:

"An outside review of gifted education in Seattle Public Schools said the district should act aggressively to diversify its program.

Almost three-quarters of the students enrolled in the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) are white, compared to about 40 percent districtwide."

I know, for a fact, that huge outreach has been done so I'll be interested to see what else the district comes up with to find more minority students.


"But according to the report, APP is perceived to be "elitist, exclusionary and even racist," and that some of its African-American students are bullied and isolated."

Okay, perceived by whom?

But at the heart of the problem?

"The program's curriculum lacks vision, the report said, and rigor in classes is inconsistent. "The philosophy and definition of giftedness in Seattle do not reflect current developments in the field of gifted education," it said."

This is absolutely key and, to me, absolutely true. I trust Bob Vaughn, who is now the head of the department, but if he doesn't get key support, nothing will change.

Here's a link to the full report which I haven't read yet.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Really Interesting Article in the Economist

Anonymous 3:51 p.m. posted a link to a great article in the Economist about McKinsey and Company, the consultants for the district's strategic review (thanks!). It was more about their review than the company itself but the article had a lot of fascinating findings. To whit:

  • "There are big variations in educational standards between countries. These have been measured and re-measured by the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which has established, first, that the best performing countries do much better than the worst and, second, that the same countries head such league tables again and again: Canada, Finland, Japan, Singapore, South Korea."
  • What do these successful school systems have in common? "Not more money. Singapore spends less per student than most. Nor more study time. Finnish students begin school later, and study fewer hours, than in other rich countries."
  • "Begin with hiring the best. There is no question that, as one South Korean official put it, “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” "
  • "The quality of teachers affects student performance more than anything else." "
  • Almost every rich country has sought to reduce class size lately. Yet all other things being equal, smaller classes mean more teachers for the same pot of money, producing lower salaries and lower professional status. That may explain the paradox that, after primary school, there seems little or no relationship between class size and educational achievement."
  • "You might think that schools should offer as much money as possible, seek to attract a large pool of applicants into teacher training and then pick the best. Not so, says McKinsey. If money were so important, then countries with the highest teacher salaries—Germany, Spain and Switzerland—would presumably be among the best. They aren't. In practice, the top performers pay no more than average salaries." "In both countries (Finland and Sinapore), teaching is a high-status profession (because it is fiercely competitive) and there are generous funds for each trainee teacher (because there are few of them).
  • "Singapore provides teachers with 100 hours of training a year and appoints senior teachers to oversee professional development in each school. In Japan and Finland, groups of teachers visit each others' classrooms and plan lessons together. In Finland, they get an afternoon off a week for this. In Boston, which has one of America's most improved public-school systems, schedules are arranged so that those who teach the same subject have free classes together for common planning."
  • "For the past few years, almost all countries have begun to focus more attention on testing, the commonest way to check if standards are falling. McKinsey's research is neutral on the usefulness of this, pointing out that while Boston tests every student every year, Finland has largely dispensed with national examinations. Similarly, schools in New Zealand and England and Wales are tested every three or four years and the results published, whereas top-of-the-class Finland has no formal review and keeps the results of informal audits confidential."
  • "But there is a pattern in what countries do once pupils and schools start to fail. The top performers intervene early and often."
Here is a link to the McKinsey report that the article references. I haven't read it yet.

Uh Oh, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson Hits a Bump

This article was in Sunday's Times about the SEA not wanting to participate in the development of a "strategic" plan that a consulting company will be creating. Individual union members, meaning teachers, can make their own decision but the union as a whole is advising against it.

Here's their rationale from the article:

"But teachers say McKinsey has a history of recommending tactics the union opposes, including privatizing schools — putting a private organization or company in charge of public schools, something that's happened in a handful of other U.S. cities."

"In school systems across the country, the firm has recommended "empowering"principals to be leaders at their schools and greater use of charter schools. In a 2006 review of Ohio's schools, the firm recommended tying student performance to teacher pay — a method Seattle's union opposes."

One of nine recommendations McKinsey made this fall to Minneapolis Public Schools is that the district "set clear expectations for all staff, reward successes, and develop or remove low performers."

"That kind of language worries union leaders, who question McKinsey's objectivity. "There is a lack of trust that McKinsey will actually come to a conclusion different from it had prior to interviewing our members," Kimball wrote in a letter to teachers."

I don't know how much reviewing the SEA did; I'd hope it was a lot. If McKinsey comes in with a set idea of how to handle teachers and teaching issues, it would be troublesome. Every district is different.

On the other hand, every person who has a job gets evaluated in one way or another. Most people get a performance review. But teaching is a highly personal, subjective job. If a teacher has a class of challenging students, does he or she get credit for reaching 5 of them? If a teacher has never taking a challenging assignment, should he or she get dunned for taking what might be perceived the easier road? How to measure performance in teaching is a huge issue.

Another issue raised from the article:

"We have to establish a completely different relationship with a completely different downtown [administration]," said SEA Vice President Olga Addae. "And we are talking about a superintendent who is not well-versed in contract language."

Kimball said Goodloe-Johnson started at a time when teachers are under pressure and frustrated by their many responsibilities. She said there are many young and idealistic teachers in the district who have strong political views opposing privatizing schools. The superintendent will have to understand that environment.

Goodloe-Johnson moved to Seattle from Charleston, S.C., where there was no teachers union. She said she meets with the Seattle union regularly and stressed that she wants to support teachers."

This point is worth considering. Dr. G-J didn't deal with a teachers' union in S.C. because it's a right-to-work state. Is she going to need a learning curve on this issue?

The last word from the teachers:

"The resolution passed Monday said: "The members of the Seattle Education Association will view any consultation with McKinsey and Company as a serious, but unintentional error which impinges on good faith bargaining."

Wendy Kimball, SEA president, said she would sit in on the meetings but not participate. (By the way, she's one of the calmest people I've ever met and seems well suited for this job.)

The strategic plan is to be combined with the reviews of curriculum, special ed, etc. and should be complete by Feb./March.

So a new assignment plan and a new strategic plan, one by May and one by March? That's a lot of overhaul in a short period of time. The devil is in the details (or the implementation).