Friday, April 25, 2008

Bryant Meeting

There was a post under Beth's thread "Middle School and Enrollment Discussions" and one reader, Old Salt, had posted about the Bryant meeting. I thought I might add my impressions/information.

It was kind of amazing because I got there at 6:45 (and we started right at 7:00 - the Bryant principal is by the book on meetings, good for her). In that period of time (there were maybe 5 people when I got there), the room filled. I'd estimate that there were at least 60 people there.

Representing the staff were Don Kennedy, COO, Tracy Libros, Enrollment and Planning, Rachel Cassidy, Enrollment and Planning. Harium Martin-Morris and Sherry Carr were in attendance. In addition to the Bryant principals, the principals of Thornton Creek, Wedgwood and one other area school (I'm sorry; somehow my notes don't reflect who it was).

The principal, Linda Robinson, stressed that the over-subscription problem (for awhile they kept referring to it as as over-capacity problem which is the opposite but Harim spoke up). Lauren, a parent at Bryant, zipped through a presentation that was somewhat confusing (you know when someone is in the know and doesn't remember that everyone isn't starting from the same place so it seems confusing? That's what happened and it made me realize that I may do that to others on this blog sometimes. Sorry, I'll try not to do that in the future.)

She said the issues about capacity were:
-overcrowding in the kindergartens
-the enrollment model is not designed for over-subscription
-two overlapping assignment processes (reference and distance)

View Ridge, Laurelhurst, Wedgwood and John Rodgers have all been asked to add a kindergarten class.

Don Kennedy said that he and his wife had bought a house (in South Carolina when their kids were small) with the idea of where they would attend school so he understood why people were unhappy. He said that the north end is going to experience some growth over the next 5 years to upwards of 600 kids in elementary. There was more increase in the NW than the NE but NE enrollment is climbing. He said that Courtney Jones, another Planning and Enrollment person, was going through the schools in the NE, looking at spaces to see if more children could be placed in certain schools.

People wanted to know who would get in that added class first. Tracy, ever calm, said that it would go to those on the waitlist for whatever school was chosen. That didn't make many people happy because of course it is now "Who has the golden ticket?"

He stated that they would be, by April 29th, adding one more kindergarten class in the NE but they didn't know the location yet. He said it would be on the website by the end of the day on that date. He said that he was forming a project team to work on a capacity plan, that he wanted input and that by late summer they would have a plan to implement in the fall. He gave no specifics.

(Unfortunately, Mr. Kennedy didn't outline the plan getting to the assignment plan but he told me the money was coming from the BEX III Technology fund. I have no idea when they might have public meetings on what this plan should look like but I hope at least by fall. If we have the time, we should have lots of meetings. Maybe every PTA could put this on the agenda for at least one meeting next year and then report back to the district.)

I wouldn't quite call things tense but you could sense the frustration. Several people interrupted
to ask questions (which did get answered but the principal asked people to wait). One question was about putting the class at AE II (now Thornton Creek; the answer was no because it was an alternative school) or reopening Sand Point elementary ( Some suggested they could grow a school there starting with 4-5 kindergarten classes like at New School. This is pretty unlikely but who knows down the line, maybe.)

Rachel Cassidy said there is growth in the north end enrollment (above the ship canal). She said there has been an increase in demand with more families choosing this area. She said the target class size under the new staffing formula decreased K size from 25 to 23. She said that there were more bilingual seats set aside at Bryant than previously (10 instead of 2). From her sheet:

"Target kindergarten class size at Bryant was decreased from 25 to 23 this year reducing total kindergarten capacity by 6. Class size at Sacajawea increased from 24 to 25; at all other schools it is the same or less than in 2007."

Now before you ask (howl, express surprise), the answer to your question is that, obviously, each school is being allowed to set their class size (upward only to contract size) by the principal. Someone raised the question of why Bryant couldn't add on 2-3 kids per kindergarten class to help those kids who got mandatory assignments (it seems mostly to John Rodgers). The silence, especially from Ms. Robinson, was deafening.

People asked if the demographics couldn't be tracked better by using housing sales. Rachel sidestepped that (I think because they generally don't ask how old you are and how many kids you have when you buy a house.) But staff said they had done a demographic survey and did work with the county demographer (there is no city demographer any more).

Her sheet said that middle and high school enrollments would increased as these larger elementary cohorts move through the grades. (Which would point to the need for another middle school as there is no more space at Eckstein or Hamilton and that Hale is likely to have to grow as Roosevelt has no more space.)

Rachel did mention (and I think people were surprised to hear) that most people don't go to their reference school throughout the district (although that is not the case for Bryant).

They then had each table talk among themselves and then write one burning question. My table had a couple who had listed 5 schools, got none of them and got assigned John Rodgers which is 4 miles from their house. Another mom, with a child at Thorton Creek, said that her neighbors had warned her they live in a no-man's land where they could never get into Bryant. This mom, Kellie Larue, explained later on how this had occurred. She said that when University Heights was closed, Bryant and other schools absorbed those kids. Because of rising enrollments, it created a situation where if you live on the outer edge of the reference area, you would never get into Bryant.

One question was what programs could be eliminated to create room at schools. People were puzzled and then aghast when this person suggested getting rid of art, music and PE. Ms. Robinson explained those were part of teachers' PCP contract and could not be eliminated.

One mom stood up and calmly stated that she did not believe that nothing could be done. She challenged the staff to take "exceptional moves" for this unique problem (although Don Kennedy had said this was not the only area that has capacity problems). Unfortunately, there really wasn't a good answer except that no, they can't. I was surprised (and told this to the mom after the meeting) that neither of the Board members spoke up because the assignment plan (and any changes to it even if short-term) are under the Board's control. It's not like the staff couldn't go to the Board and ask but the Board would likely have to vote it in. (Charlie, am I right here?)

One father said that he understood that the assignment plan was going to be changed in the future but how would that help now? And, of course, there is no answer for that.

People asked about how the waitlists worked and Tracy pointed out that the assignment plan had been tweaked about 10 years ago so that people would not game the system. John Miner, the principal at Thorton Creek, asked if the lottery system couldn't be helped so that people don't get mandatory assignments.

I think people were largely unsatisfied. The added kindergarten class with the unknown location probably depressed people more because it's like "Will it be the school I'm waitlisted for? Nah." Did the district know this was coming? Yes but you have the problem of schools wanting, because parents want, smaller kindergarten sizes and yet you have people who can't get into an elementary school anywhere near their home. One mom at my table asked me about portables but I said that unless the principal asked for it, I doubt the district would just put them at a school.

Would it be better to overfill those kindergartens and make some people happy or keep them smaller which is probably the better academic atmosphere for kindergarten? I don't think opening Sand Point is the way to go; I believe there is still room at John Rodgers. It seems like John Rodgers is not very popular but I'm not sure how many kids who are in that reference area go there.


anonymous said...

There are at least three school buildings not being used in the NE cluster. The old Ravenna School, now the Rav/Eckstein Community Center, Sand Point, and the Cedar Park school (135th and 37th) currently used as artist condo's, I believe. What is the status of these buildings? Are they sold, leased? Does the district have the option to reclaim them?

And, of course there is Summit at Jane Adams. I'm really surprised that nobody at the meeting brought up moving Summit and re purposing Jane Adams.

The lack of capacity in the NE has a long history, especially in the Lake City area. I found an interesting article with some history on the situation from the early 1950's on. Interestingly the district created "portable schools" to temporarily solve the capacity issue until they had a permanent resolution.


zb said...

None of these ideas about opening schools in other locations help the current class. I do think that a bulge of students is an extraordinary, immediate circumstance that means people are going to have to flex some. I'd start by crowding in some more kids.

Then, I think we need some immediate tweaks. Personally, the first I'd make is getting rid of sibling preferences for kids going out of their reference area. I think that might move some people around, making room for kids in their own reference areas. As long as John Rogers has room (and I don't know if it does), there's not an under-capacity issue; there's a mis-assignment issue (if we think distance matters, and I do, especially for elementary school kids).

Opening schools needs to be decided on long term demographic projections. Willy nilly opening schools, and closing them doesn't work.

(And, I think there's a good case that something needs to be done about middle school/high school capacity in NE. I'm less convinced about elementary school).

Charlie Mas said...

Melissa is right; any change in the assignment plan requires a vote of the Board.

The only real, lasting solution will be to increase capacity. Shuffling kids around will never be more than a stop-gap patch.

Increased capacity could come from adding to existing schools (expensive and slow - couldn't be done until BEX IV), bringing closed schools back into use (expensive but less slow - could be done if funding were available) or repurposing a building (cheap and quick).

So, if Jane Addams, Pinehurst or Thorton Creek were repurposed as neighborhood schools, the district could instantly have the necessary capacity.

Of course the District would then have to find space for the displaced programs. The communities for alternative programs, however, are not geographically based, so the programs can be moved with more freedom than neighborhood schools. Moreover, the Jane Addams building, in the far northeast corner of the city, is a poor location for an all-city draw, and the northeast part of the city has more alternative schools than other regions.

The first step would be to find a replacement building for whatever program was moved. Available sites include Wilson-Pacific, John Marshall, and Lincoln. While none of these buildings are in stellar condition, the District could promise to renovate the one that is used early in BEX IV.

This is just one possible solution, but it appears to be the quickest and cheapest.

anonymous said...

"None of these ideas about opening schools in other locations help the current class."

No, but in case you were not aware the district is projecting that the NE cluster will increase by over 500 children in the next 5 years, so hopefully a new school or the re purposing of an existing building would solve the long term capacity issues in the NE.

"As long as John Rogers has room (and I don't know if it does), there's not an under-capacity issue"

Perhaps you were not aware that not only is John Roger full, they have added an additional kindergarten class to accommodate all of the children that needed assignments.

I think Charlie is right. The NE has more alternative schools than other clusters, and with the need for capacity, moving one of them to a more central location and re purposing the existing building seems like the most logical and inexpensive fix.

The bottom line is that the NE needs capacity.

anonymous said...

As far as moving an alternative school it should be Summit.

AS1 is actually in the north cluster and so moving it wouldn't help solve the capacity issues in the NE cluster.

As for Thornton Creek, it only draws from 2 clusters, the North which only accounts for about 15% of their students, and the NE which accounts for 85% of their students. Moving Thornton Creek would not help the capacity issues as the building already serves about 250 Ne cluster, neighborhood students.

So, it really boils down to Summit, which is an all city draw, has a dwindling enrollment, and really should be located in a right sized building in a central location.

old salt said...


I missed the first part of the meeting. Does the district believe that this is a one year bubble, so they will only add one class to each school that will move up each year?

Parents of several NE schools I spoke with believe that when they add a kindergarten, their schools will be expanding by 6 classrooms as population grows & siblings go through the schools K-5.

TechyMom said...

Could Summit work in a building designed for a K-8? Other threads have suggested merging AAA with TT Minor, which has room for the k-5 portion of AAA. The AAA building is centrally located, and already an all-city draw. Is it big enough for Summit? Does it have the facilities to serve the 9-12students there? If not, could they share facilities (science labs, sports fields, whatever) at Franklin or Garfield?

zb said...

"Perhaps you were not aware that not only is John Roger full, they have added an additional kindergarten class to accommodate all of the children that needed assignments."

I didn't know this, and it definitely influences my view about whether this is a capacity issue. I also think re purposing schools makes a lot of sense.

I generally try to be supportive of the schools and the tough job they're trying to do, but I do feel a growing sense of frustration at the lack of response to the status quo. I do think part of that is the "stakeholders'" fault -- trying to convince everyone is a recipe for never getting anything done, even while ignoring everyone is as well.

One problem with not doing anything, *now* is that the facts on the ground will change. I think NE has seen a child boom -- partially because of the schools. But, if people get frustrated, they'll find other solutions (you can bet people who didn't get into Bryant are looking at houses in Mercer and Shoreline). So if it takes 4 years to respond to their concern, the concern will be gone. I've never liked that argument when it seemed to say that the district had to do whatever it needed to to hold on to the people with the most choices. But, the fact is the people with choices will change the problem the district is trying to solve by themselves, if nothing happens.

I know parents of 2 year olds who are looking at private schools 'cause of the mess this year.

anonymous said...

Old Salt, no the district does not think this is a one time bubble. They are expecting that the NE cluster will have growth in the next 5 years of more than 600 children in elementary.

ZB, in addition to John Rogers adding a kindergarten class to accommodate all of the children who needed assignments this year, so did View Ridge, Laurelhurst and Wedgewood. And, the district has promised that one more school in the NE cluster will also add another kindergarten classroom. That's 5 new kindergarten classrooms!!! With 25 kids per class, that is 125 "extra" students this year alone. And where will these extra 125 kids go to middle school? Eckstein can't absorb them. They already serve 1250 kids with many portables. And, they already turn away families in Laurelhurst and north of Lake City, so even at present (without the extra kids) they can not accommodate all of the children in the NE cluster.

It's a big issue, and it needs to be worked on NOW.

Charlie Mas said...

Failing/refusing to serve the community thus causing the community to seek schools elsewhere is not a solution.

Jane Addams could be a K-8. It is particularly well suited for that purpose by size and resources (labs, etc.) It was originally built as a middle school.

If Jane Addams were re-purposed as a K-8, there would be some question about whether the John Rogers program wouldn't be moved there. Jane Addams is in the Rogers reference area (see map). John Rogers is a small building (<300 capacity) in poor repair.

The AAA really isn't quite central enough for an all-city draw. Although it is more central than Jane Addams. The viable new locations for Summit that leap to mind are Wilson-Pacific, John Marshall, and Lincoln. Any of these would require significant capital improvements, but not immediately. They could wait until BEX IV if they had to.

The Times ran this article about the Bryant meeting in today's paper.

Melissa Westbrook said...

The article today was okay but one thing was not explained properly. The reporter, Cara Solomon, says this,

"District leaders say the new plan would be more predictable and consistent than the current system. Now, students and their families submit a list of preferences, and a series of rules determines where students are assigned."

Series of rules? Well, there are guidelines but the "rules" don't really kick in UNLESS a school is over-subscribed. Maybe I'm putting too much of a fine point on it but people read this stuff and get confused.

She also wrote,

"Under an outline the board passed in June, families would still be able to choose a school, but the district would guarantee each student a seat in a school near his or her home."

The key word in that sentence is "near". You'll note (and I'm sure the district means this) that she didn't say the "nearest" school. It may be possible to right size each reference area for a nearest school placement but when it comes to middle school and high school, that is not likely to happen. Those schools are scattered around, we have geography considerations, etc.

No one should count on their "closest" school for middle or high school unless you live right next to it.

I also neglected to mention that both Sherry and Harim did speak briefly at the end. Harim was his usual "I'm gonna tell you the truth" guy. He said that yes, the system is broken (he compared it to a plate of spaghetti for the kind of mess it is).

I'll try to find out the plan for the assignment process so we can get a better idea of what to look for coming down the line.

In the short-term, Mr. Kennedy is putting together a team to work on the capacity issues. What relief it will give to the current parents is unknown. I wish the Board would grant a one-year permission for those on waitlists be allowed to go out of cluster (only to the next nearest cluster). I know, for example, the people who are on the outer edge of the Byrant reference area might be willing to go to Green Lake (which has room).

zb said...

"Failing/refusing to serve the community thus causing the community to seek schools elsewhere is not a solution."

Oh, I totally agree. I was actually pointing out that I can easily see a good 50% of those 125 "extra" kids in K in NE being whittled down to 60, by just next year, if the schools don't do something *now*.

Melissa, re the "nearest" school. Yes, "right-sizing" the reference areas won't give you access to your crow-flies-distance nearest school, but the key thing that's driving me crazy about the current plan is that you simply can't know what's going to happen. And, what really drives people crazy is having to drive by another school to get to the one you're assigned. It's one thing when there are two different schools in two different directions, and you're assigned the further one, in the other direction, because the reference areas had to be drawn that way. It's yet another thing when you live in Bryant/Ravenna, and drive by Bryant, View Ridge, and Wedgewood on your way to another school.

My understanding of the assignment plan (from reading the tea leaves of documents at SPS) is that the district plans to draw default neighborhood school boundaries, based on a shortest distance model that tries to optimize shortest distance for all the kids (which is an iterative process, because of issues like Queen Anne's situation). That will require guessing about demographics, a big issue that I know nothing about, especially since demographic projections are also iterative -- assigning school boundaries will influence people's neighborhood choices.

I base my tea-leaving reading both on statements like Carla's, and also the extensive data on SPS's cite about "walkable" areas, and the number of children who live in them.

Looking at that data, though, I think they're not paying appropriate attention to kids who live in neighborhoods who do not attend SPS (which is a big bump that can come out of nowhere, i.e. with no houses changing hands).

Melissa Westbrook said...

You're right ZB, it's quite the challenge. For elementary school (and I left out the word elementary when I talked about rightsizing reference areas), yes, you shouldn't have to go past other ones to get to your assigned one.

What is tricky, for example, is the case of middle school in the NE. I'm trying to make the case (or at least get people thinking) that because both those school are in the south part of the region (and if no middle school/K-8 opens up further north), then some people might have to drive past Eckstein because they are assigned to Hamilton. Why? Because the kids in the far north will already be on a bus far longer than other kids to the east. Is it fair or equitable to make them sit on a bus 15 minutes more to go to Hamilton? It would be fair and equitable for all kids, if we have to because of school locations, to be on the bus the least amount of time.

And that may mean some kids to the east might be assigned to Hamilton so that the kids to the north have a shorter ride (likely to Eckstein).

I know many won't like this. But that's the challenge we face.

whittier07 said...

A little off subject, but I was wondering about the class sizes mentioned in the original post (23 for Bryant, 25 for Sacajawea and that some of the other schools had less students than last year's classes) ... who decides class sizes? At our school we have 27 assigned to our K-classes even though the parents and PTA have voiced numerous times that they believe in small class sizes. At one PTA meeting we were told that the latest research shows that small class size really only benefits at risk children ... you can imagine the teachers/parents response to that!

Melissa Westbrook said...

The teachers' contracts are the first starting point for class size. I'm not sure how you got to a 27 kid kindergarten because I thought it was K-26, 1-3-28 and 4-5-32. Anybody?

From those numbers, the new weighted staffing formula says K is 23-25 but I believe that variance is at the discretion of the principal.

Ask them to give you a reference for this study they cite and don't let them shake you off. There are any number of studies on class size benefits (with mixed results) but I never heard that only at-risk kids benefit. What I mostly have heard is that a qualified teacher is the most important thing (but teachers are human beings and I'd guess it is more realistic to teach a smaller group than a larger group).

whittier07 said...

If it's up to the principal I guess I don't understand why they aren't listening to the parents? How does it benefit the school to pack out the K classes?

They never quoted a specific study, just said it was the "latest" research ... this was at a meeting earlier this year at which Supt. G-J attended.

Maureen said...

Melissa said: "I wish the Board would grant a one-year permission for those on waitlists be allowed to go out of cluster (only to the next nearest cluster)."

I don't know what you mean. They don't need permission, if they had included Greenlake on their list they would have been assigned there.

So what would have happened this year at Bryant under the (potential) new assignment plan? Every kid in the Bryant reference area would have been guarenteed a spot there. Would class size have been huge? Would they truck in as many portables as it took? (What happens if there's no room for portables?) Would they have forced everyone into half day kindergarten? (But then what happens for 1st grade?) I am not looking forward to the loss of flexibility that choice provides.

I believe that contractual maxes in class size mean that teachers have to be compensated if classes go over the max--not that they can't happen. Until this year, principals had an incentive to increase class size because they got about $4000 more per kid without increasing costs. Now that budgets are based on staffing standards that is no longer true. At TOPS, class sizes are often too big because the District assumes that our turnover is 'average' and they send us an average number of new kids but few to none leave and we have to take the new ones (It look like they are sending us nine 6th graders next year, and I can't imagine that we'll lose that many--class size could potentially be 34 or 35.)

Someone mentioned the possibility of not allowing sibling preference for kids outside of the reference area. That would be very unpopular, but I'm afraid it will have to be done or the new assignment plan will take forever to actually help. And problems like Montlake and Stevens (and propbably Bryant) have with K will go on happening. The thing is, they can't only do it after they realize they need the room (i.e., in April) they need to make it systematic so people outside the ref area can plan too.

anonymous said...

"I don't know what you mean. They don't need permission, if they had included Greenlake on their list they would have been assigned there."

Yes, but without transportation, which is very important, when a school is further away from your house, especially for homes with two working parents.

anonymous said...

"So what would have happened this year at Bryant under the (potential) new assignment plan? Every kid in the Bryant reference area would have been guaranteed a spot there."

Right now the NE cluster is so full, the district will continue to have issues accommodating all kids with or without the new assignment plan.

Assuming the district adds capacity in the NE before the new assignment plan begins in 2010/11,they can simply redraw the boundaries in the NE cluster to accommodate the families in each schools reference areas, especially Bryant's. I would assume the boundaries would move students north. In other words some of the families currently in the Bryant reference area would find themselves in the Wedgewood reference area, and some of the families in Wedgewood's reference area would find themselves in John Rogers reference area.

fr said...

It's good to hear the district is at least opening a dialog about the NE cluster. But that's certainly not the only cluster with issues. We are in the central cluster - which has several excellent schools and several struggling schools, with little in between. Along with many others here, we were assigned to one of the struggling schools (not our reference school - or either of the other two good ones within 1.5 miles of us). We are considering trying to enroll our daughter in one of the NE cluster schools and dealing with the transportation headaches that will cause (esp since we both work). We would be ecstatic if our daughter had been assigned to a school as good as Rodgers or Sacajawea. The central cluster faces a different problem - one of a huge disparity of school quality. The bump in kindergarten applicants this year has exacerbated this issue. The problems here seem as daunting and deserving of attention as the challenges in the NE cluster.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Absolutely FR, I think this discussion was about the NE because of the Bryant meeting. But Mr. Kennedy did point out to those attending that there are capacity issues in many places throughout the district. Adding to that (he didn't say this), is the quality (perceived or otherwise) of the schools in any given cluster.

fr said...

Sorry - I should have been clearer. I completely understand why the discussion in this blog centers around Bryant. What I meant was that the district seems to have some plans to help with the issue in the NE cluster (which is great), but I have not heard any concrete plans to deal with things here in the central cluster.

anonymous said...

Fr, I feel for you. We lived in the Central area and when my oldest son went to kindergarten and we chose private school as we felt the risk in attempting an assignment in a "good" public school was to great. We couldn't afford private school, but luckily scholarships are readily available for middle class as well as low income families (shockingly, families earning up to 100K can qualify for at least partial scholarship, and under 70K generally get a much larger or full scholarship).

In second grade we moved our child to a public school in the NE cluster and drove him back and forth to school every day. It was a small price to pay. We eventually found a house close by and moved. (By the way we did not find the academics at the private school to be any better than the public school in the NE cluster)

I can't understand why the district would allow three traditional schools and one alternative school in the central cluster to be so popular, have huge waiting lists, and turn families away, while three other schools in the same cluster can't fill their classrooms, have poor reputations, and well below average test scores. Why hasn't the district intervened? My son went to kindergarten almost 9 years ago. This has been going on at least since then, and hasn't changed at all. What will it take for the district to step in?

All I can tell you, Fr, is don't give up. Try to move your child next year. Move him/her to one of the better schools in the Central cluster, drive him to another cluster for a better school, or try for a scholarship in a private school if you can't afford full tuition.

Good luck!

Charlie Mas said...

Why doesn't the District intervene?

There's an excellent question.

Consider the case of Joe Drake, in which various people sent dozens - if not hundreds - of letters of complaint to Ammon McWashington and Steve Wilson without so much as the courtesy of a response.

The District has not - at least not until recently - seen it as their role to intervene. I know; it's incredible. But the undue respect they have for the idea of the principal as CEO has created a lot of upside-down situations in which principals have way too much authority and way too little oversight.

reader said...

Yes, some CEO. The store can never go out of business, and the customers are assigned. I've often heard parents laud a principal, "Well, she's a great businessman." It's not a business, the service isn't profitable, the store can't go out of business, the customers are assigned. Why do we think business is so great anyway? There's tons of fat in business and there are plenty of Enrons and WaMus out there.

zb said...

Wasn't the concrete plan about the Central cluster supposed to be part of the Southeast initiatives? Or was that not part of it anyway.
As I see it, the solution for NE is some increase in capacity (reclaim Jane Adams?) + default reference schools, that redraw some boundaries so that there are no "no-mans" lands. I also do agree that getting rid of the sibling preference would be wise to speed things up.

In Central/SE, we need to improve the poorly performing schools. I don't know how this happens, but am completely unconvinced that this is something that the district can do by fiat, even if they were all-powerful, and could, for example, hire the principals of their choice, and put them wherever they wanted. I think there has to be buy-in by neighbors, and that our current system of choice, undercuts that buy-in (though removing choice wouldn't produce it). I'd also, close the smaller schools, which can't sustain the fluxuations in populations that will occur with default neighborhood schools, and think really hard about where all city draw programs (including TOPS, APP, and special needs programs are placed).

Charlie Mas said...

Consider how re-purposing Lowell and using it to combine students from TT Minor and Montlake could be part of the solution in the Central region.

The perception of "good" schools and "bad" schools in the central cluster are based, first, in stratification in affluence. But that's not all. There are schools, such as Maple, Van Asselt, Beacon Hill, and Dearborn Park, which are doing much better than would be expectated with low-income, minority, and immigrant students. So why can't Thurgood Marshall, Leschi, Madrona or TT Minor do that?

For all of the time and effort spent dismissing the importance of standardized test scores, they remain at the root of this perception of "good" schools and "bad" schools. And for all of the talk about equity and equality, affluence and test scores continue to be highly correlated. So pardon me if I notice a high correlation between "good" schools and affluence and "bad" schools and poverty.

So it seems to me that one possible solution to the gaps in perceived school quality in the Central cluster are to re-draw the reference areas to make them more economically diverse. Could there be long north-south strips of reference areas instead of generally round areas centered on the schools?

Or we could introduce an FRE tie-breaker.

reader said...

Hmmm. And what's so bad about Thurgood Marshall? It seems to also be doing much better than might be predicted based on demographics, and not all that different from Stevens. Their reading scores (the most important thing) are relatively good. Sure they don't do so well on something like 5th grade science.... but plenty of people here have noted that this doesn't even count long term, and that their own kids are opting out of science. Not to mention there's not really an aligned "science curriculum". When a school like T.Marshall posts a poor score, well that makes it unacceptable, but not unacceptable when it's your kid getting the opted out 0. It seems people are not choosing this school specifically because of its demographics.

anonymous said...

I dislike the WASL. I do not think that it is a reliable or relevant test. Unfortunately, it is the only tool that we (parents) have to use to gauge how schools are doing compared to each other.

T.Marshall is a unique school in that it has gender specific classes, and require students to wear uniforms. They have also had some discipline issues, and as a result require students to walk through the halls silently...with their hands on their hips and their fingers on their lips. That is just not appealing to some parents. Myself included.

You say that "T. Marshall is not all that different from Stevens", but it is very different. Stevens test scores are almost double those of T. Marshall, and Stevens has a diverse mix of students, ethnically and socio economically. T. Marshall has some ethnic diversity (though very few Caucasians choose it) but very little socio economic diversity. Thurgood Marshall is 16% Asian, 56% black, 23% Latin and 5% white. 82% FRE.

If you really want to compare the school demographically, I would compare it to Maple or Beacon Hill. Both of these schools have 5th grade WASL scores that are much higher in reading and double those of T. Marshall in math and science. Why? What are they doing that is working? What is T. Marshall doing that is not working?

I don't know how Reader could think that Thurgood Marshall "is doing much better than should be expected for it's demographics". From the 2007 annual report:
5th Grade WASL scores
Reading 48.4%
Math 22%
Science 0%

That's right, not one child passed the science WASL at Thurgood Marshall in 5th grade. They have one of the lowest reading scores in the district and are doing very poorly in math. That would be very alarming to me, if I were trying to choose a school. That might be the answer to reader's initial question "what is so bad about T. Marshall".

Maureen said...

Charlie says "re-draw the reference areas to make them more economically diverse" This sounds great to me in theory, and I think socioeconomic diversity should be a factor in drawing the new boundaries. But, the fact is, that upper middle class families have choices that poor people don't and Capitol Hill is full of private schools just waiting to take their money. I guess you are arguing that schools like Madrona would be more successful if families couldn't choose McGilvra or Stevens, and I think that is true to some extent but what choices do wealthier Leschi families have? I expect they just go private to a large extent. Do we have data on private school attendance by current reference area? If we do, it might help us predict the effect of redrawing boundaries on public school enrollment.

Another concern I have (and maybe I'm just playing devil's advocate, I don't know what the research says) is that is it possible that schools like Maple are successful because their population is not diverse? Can they tailor their instruction to kids who all have similar backgrounds? We often discuss here how difficult (and important) it is to differentiate instruction. Are we actually better off with high needs kids together in a school with a great principal and smaller class sizes and other kids in bigger classes with less driven principals? I just don't know.

Schools like Stevens and TOPS belie this to some extent, but the lower income kids who go there chose those schools and that shows that they are different. (I know Stevens is a neighborhood school, but you have to have registered on time to get in there and the neighborhood is relatively wealthy, so their population now is different than it would be under mandatory assignments))

Isn't Beth studying education? Beth, do you know if there is any conclusive evidence on the effect of socioeconomic diversity on success in the classroom?

SolvayGirl said...

There is so much more than WASL scores to indicate the "quality" of a school. Community, PTA involvement (or existence), Extra-curricular offerings, Atmosphere, Discipline levels, etc. Those are the things that determine whether or not a school may be popular.

In the SE cluster (and probably some in the Central too), those factors have a huge impact on choice, but for elementary there's more. In a school with a high percentage of families in poverty and/or ESL, kindergarten classrooms are often overloaded with students who have had no preschool. Consequently, their class time is spent getting them up to speed on the basics: colors, shapes, numbers, letters, and the social aspects of being in a formal classroom. Parents whose children have had preschool (1-3 years for some) do not want their children to become bored with school and opt for a school that has a kindergarten class that is more "advanced."

And that underlines the basic problem the District has in areas that are economically diverse. How do you gear your curriculum when the students' needs are so diverse? Some think APP and Spectrum solves this problem, but it doesn't do much for the bright kid who is not a great test taker. It has got to be tough for a kindergarten teacher to deal with a class that has kids at pre-school level and others who are chomping at the bit to read. This phenomena does not occur so often in the northend, but is all to prevalent south of the Ship Canal.

The problem continues through middle and high school, hence the flight to northend schools (Do you have any idea how many students at Hamilton bus in from the south?) and independent schools. The only reason the southend is not seeing such extreme over-capacity issues is that choice is allowing families to access the "better" schools in the north.

"Buying in" to an under-performing school is not an experiment most parents are willing to make on an individual basis. Our children only have a short window of time to become engaged with education and prepare themselves for their futures. I'm not willing to risk blowing that to try to improve an underperforming school--that's not my job. My job is to get my child the best education I can. In Seattle's southend, that may mean a long drive to a "better" school or flight to an independent school.

And as far as future demographics..I can hardly walk outside my home without tripping over a baby stroller. Young families are moving to the southend in droves because housing is still relatively affordable here. The District has a tough road ahead and changes to the assignment plan are definitely needed. It won't be a panacea, but it should help.

anonymous said...

I think what Charlie proposes as far as re drawing boundaries with socio economic diversity in mind has merit. It's a great idea. But, I think that what Maureen says would be the realistic outcome. Those with the means will bail. They will not send their child to a historically under performing school, or an unwelcoming school (Madrona), just because it is their reference school.

So, what to do? I personally think the only way to make re drawing the boundaries as Charlie proposes work would be to close the unpopular/struggling schools, poll the community to find out what it would take for them to choose a school, and then re open the buildings with attractive new programs. And, of course a lot of marketing!

I would be much more willing to give a new school a try, than be forced to go to a historically struggling school just because it was my reference school. Especially, if the district did some outreach, and I felt like I had some buy in.

anonymous said...

Our Board Director, Harium Martin-Morris is asking for input on capacity issues on his blog. Please let him know what your experience is, it's a great way to communicate directly with a Director.


reader said...

People see in the WASL what they want to see. So, T. Marshall is so terrible by some 5th grade scores. Well, that's a very small class. Let's look at the testing actually required by NCLB, and in the areas with the best defined curriculums 4th grade. And it's a larger class.

T. Marshall:
R,W,M = 60%, 60%, 40%

Steven's 4th grade black students.:
R,W,M = 60%, 40%, 25%

Steven's Low Income
R,W,M = 60%, 40%, 30.

So, what's the big difference????

Given similar students, viola, Stevens and Marshall produce similar results. Why is Stevens lauded and Marshal cursed? The whiter and more affluent students are doing better at Stevens. We know that already. No amount of school assignment tweaking is going to change that. And it doesn't mean Marshall is terrible, or at least, any more terrible than Stevens.

reader said...

PS. It's hard to see how ad_hoc compares Beacon to T. Marshall. Beacon Hill's 4th grade had only 5 black students, and 40 low income. Those 40 Beacon Hill low incomers had scores almost identical to T. Marshall's. And back to Steven's Science.... well 3 black students passed. Big deal. Is that really enough to say it's soooo much better than T. Marshall?

And Charlie's pet school Van Asselt:
65%, 60%, 20% = black students
(same as Marshall)
81%, 74%, 54% = low income
(yes, better)

It does look like Maple beats the odds in all categories.

Beth Bakeman said...

Maureen asked "Beth, do you know if there is any conclusive evidence on the effect of socioeconomic diversity on success in the classroom?"

I think that depends on what you mean by "success".

For low-income kids, a high concentration of low-income kids has been demonstrated to be correlated with low "achievement" (typically measured by test scores. Those same low-income kids, when in a school with more diverse socioeconomics in the kid population, do better.

For me, that is the most compelling reason for instituting an income-based tie breaker as part of the enrollment process.

For upper-income kids, I don't believe there is any proof of increased test scores (or decreased test scores).

But there have been a few qualitative studies that show increased compassion for others, commitment to social justice and other outcomes for those upper-income kids as a result of socioeconomic diversity. Which is why I believe sending kids to most private schools in the area (with the exception of the Giddens School) results in less "success" for the kids who attend on these important dimensions.

But, as I said, it all depends on what we believe the purpose of education is, and what we define as "success."

Maureen said...

Thanks beth, that is what I had hoped you would say. I absolutely agree with the idea that it is valuable for upper income kids to be part of a diverse group.

And thank you to reader for helping us to compare apples to apples. When I compare test scores (and I do do it--because you have to use what info is available) I always ask the question, how are kids like mine doing? That often gives you a very different picture than looking at the scores in aggregate.

Charlie Mas said...

From the OSPI web site, WASL pass rates for 4th grade African-American students from all of the Central Region schools:

Stevens, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 66.7, W 33.3, M 25.0

Gatzert, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 66.7, W 48.1, M 33.3

T. T. Minor, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 52.0, W 48.0, M 16.0

T. Marshall, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 60.9, W 54.5, M 34.8

Leschi, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 84.0, W 56.0, M 52.0

Madrona, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 65.5, W 44.8, M 41.4

TOPS, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 86.7, W 66.7, M 60.0

McGilvra and Montlake: Not enough students to report (<10)

And from a few other schools:

Van Asselt, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 65.0, W 60.0, M 20.0

Maple, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 90.0, W 80.0, M 50.0

AAA, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 47.5, W 27.5, M 20.0

John Muir, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 74.2, W 80.6, M 29.0

Dearborn Park, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 41.2, W 47.1, M 35.3

Kimball, 2006-2007, 4th grade, AA students: R 53.3, W 53.3, M 66.7

Charlie Mas said...

There is an interesting and lively discussion of some of these same issues (and some of the same folks) over at Director Martin-Morris' blog.

lurking said...

Giddens School different???? I don't think so. Schools like that love to get a bunch of limousine liberals together and pretend to "celebrate" diversity. It's quite the self-selected diversity, not the real life diversity that goes to Giddens. They prefer mixed race high income couples, along with lesbian parented families, etc..., so that they can claim diversity with self-congratulatory pleasure... but, without dealing with any of the struggles that go along with actual diversity. And if your child has a disability, well, you're shown the Giddens door immediately and that's without even knowing a single thing about the child. Since disability is disproportional, that's a form of racial discrimination too.

TechyMom said...

I'm not sure that looking at students similar to your child is the best way to use test scores when picking a school. I should also say that test scores are not the biggest thing in my decision process around schools, but they do figure into my complex equation, complex enough that I plan to build a spreadsheet to help me analyze it (note my handle <grin/>).

Anyway, if a school has very low test scores, even if kids like mine are doing ok, that school is going to be focused on bringing up the test scores. That is probably the right thing for them to focus on in most cases, and it's required under NCLB.

However, that doesn't make it the best choice for a kid who is not struggling to pass the WASL. Just because my kid can pass the WASL, doesn’t mean that the school’s job is done. If a school has low test scores, and is working hard to bring them up (again, this is probably the right thing for that school to do), then how much of the school’s time and resources will be left for the kid who is easily passing the WASL? The 4th grader who is reading at an 8th or 10th grade level? The 8th grader with a passion for science? The budding artist or musician? Maybe some schools can do both well, serve every kid at his or her level, differentiate even in a large class. It sounds like a hard thing to do to me. And so, when I'm evaluating a school with low test scores, I'm going to ask lots of questions about what they do for kids who are working at or above grade level and how they do it, and I'm going to do what I can to verify their answers.