Friday, May 30, 2008

Hooray for Meany!!

I have just read what I think may be the most wonderful document I have EVER seen from Seattle Public Schools, and I must, must, must share it with you all.

It is Meany's description of their Advanced Learning Program. Please, please read this. Nevermind the obvious typos, this is what people have been asking for.

This is what I was thinking of when I posted a comment to the thread that Stephanie Jones started, Hidden Gems and Community Cohorts.

I think it might be different if a school could articulately describe their ALO and how - exactly - it delivers a rigorous, accelerated curriculum to select students in an inclusive environment. I think it might be different if the District would review these programs for quality and efficacy (as they promised to do when they created ALOs). I think it would be different if there was data to support the contention that their program works. Right now, there is none of that. Not at Meany, not anywhere.

Well Meany has certainly done their part. Here is a clear description of what the program is supposed to do and how the program is supposed to work. I can easily imagine a student or family member using this as their expectations for the program and the assignments - in frequency, type, challenge and content. While it is true that the District has failed utterly to review advanced learning programs for quality and efficacy, but the lack a meaningful certification doesn't mean that some of them aren't good.

In contrast, let me offer also the program description for Spectrum at West Seattle Elementary, the long but meaningless description of the ALO program at Blaine, and the simple fact that there are no program descriptions for any of the APP schools.

Again, I cannot say enough how delighted I am by this description of the program and the commitment by the staff, administration, and community at Meany.


anonymous said...

Wow, this IS fantastic. I wish all schools could articulate their programs this way.

Whether advanced learning takes place in an inclusive environment or self contained classroom, all schools should embrace a strong commitment and philosophy as Meany has. Also worthy of recognition is the oversight that they have built in to the program, their clear direction, and high expectations! It is clear that they have done a tremendous amount of research and want to offer a high quality program.

If they prove successful the district should use them as a model for other schools that offer ALO's. Go Meany!

Teachermom said...

Wow. I want to work there.

Dorothy Neville said...

Thanks for sharing, Charlie.

Meany's document shows that they have read the right books and are trying to absorb and adopt the ideas therein with regard to rigor and challenging students --- all students --- to higher expectations.

As it points out, sometimes teachers offer differentiation in a way that seems like punishment, making the student do all the traditional work AND an extra assignment. I hope they heed the advice to avoid that. For kids who already have a firm grasp of the material, homework that is meant to practice and reinforce can really seem like a punishment for already knowing the work. (that just makes my heart break even more over the misuse of homework by Northgate, but that's another story.)

I really like how the whole school is working together on this. As the study Trish Dziko pointed us to, the high-performing, high-poverty schools were distinguished by having the entire school staff on board for the same mission and expectations.

Another reason I am heartend to read the whole school is on board with regular meetings for self examination and improvement is because I did not see any of this philosophy in my son's dismal experience in elementary APP. All I saw was an emphasis on product (diorama, poster board, presentation...) with no regard to the components of rigor (complexity, ambiguity, etc) that emphasize critical thinking skills.

If the Meany teachers stay on task with this --- and I think they will, it appears to be organized in a way that will be invigorating for the teachers --- they will be a model for the district.

Charlie Mas said...

Let me be clear about what I really like about Meany's program description.

1) It had actual actions.

The teachers were assigned to develop CFE modules. These lessons are going to be made and the students will do them. This isn't some airy-fairy, wouldn't-it-be-nice, if-you-choose-to-do-so fantasy. The teacher WILL create these lessons. There is a commitment to action there.

2) It is across all departments.

This isn't going to happen just in math or L.A. This isn't going to happen in just the four core subjects of reading, writing, math and science. The way I'm reading this, it will also happen in world languages, in art, in every class. The descriptions says: "each department", "each class", and "each teacher". I certainly understand those to mean each department, each class and each teacher.

3) It had actual service standards.

There is a commitment here. A minimum of one challenge per quarter is to be offered in each class. If it doesn't happen, there is legitimate cause for complaint. If my child were at the school and didn't have the opportunity for a Challenge assignment at least once a quarter in each class, you bet your ass I would be demanding an explanation and a correction.

4) It had actual criteria that could actually be used.

They can't just slap together any crap thing and call it the Challenge assignment. It has to meet defined criteria. Again, if my child brought home a purported Challenge assignment that didn't meet the standard as defined by this document, I would be demanding an explanation and a correction.

In almost every case, the difference is the gap between plans, theories, ideas, and ideals and real life where work is done and things can be measured and counted. Anytime they can bridge that gap, they have succeeded. It doesn't happen very often, but I think they have done so here.

Dorothy Neville said...

Yes, Charlie, specific service and specific criteria. Both things that parents and teachers can watch and evaluate. Clearly this was thought out and they are working on transparency as well as action.

Contrast that with this anecdote from my son's time at Lowell. After too many dioramas and other projects with no critical thinking involved, I was fed up. My son then got one more diorama project, this one was a complex piece that would have taken at least 20 hours to complete. And the rubric gave 90 percent of the points to the details of the construction of the diorama, and 10 percent to the presentation that had the barest hint of synthesis and analysis involved. I pointed this out to the teacher, that the whole point of APP was that these kids had potential for greater depth of understanding and analysis, yet this was one more 20+ hours that would be spent on cutting, gluing, painting, sculpting... (and materials that cost parents real money) and just a little work and only a few minutes presentation on higher order thinking skills. And that the relative importance of the goals (construct a detailed diorama and slap together a presentation) were reflected in the grading rubric.

She was very open to the discussion and said I was thought provoking. So she told me she'd change the assignment. I was looking forward to seeing the modified rubric. Well, she didn't change *anything* of the actual assignment, she just made the diorama 75% of the grade and the presentation 25%.

I contrast that with Meany's approach and see that the entire staff is cooperating and reflecting deeply on what a challenge project ought to entail.

Stephanie Jones said...

Wow, you go out of town for the weekend, you miss things!

Thanks for this post Charlie, and for widely disseminating the details of this exciting, well-thought-through model. It is a really positive development for Meany, among several.

I have been reading over back threads and mulling the sum of our collective "wants" from the district and from individual schools. Someone mentioned "culture change" at the district.

As we press for change in poor communications and processes, and identify negative cultural remnants (the WSHS AP limitation, etc.), it behooves us as parents and community members to do just what Charlie has done here -- show support for positive cultural steps such as this -- spelling out high level goals and support structures that will put them in reach. I, for one, will be looking for more examples like this, and spreading them around.

Hooray for Meany!

Unknown said...

I am a parent of a sixth grader at Meany, and I really appreciate the encouraging comments about our school's efforts to implement an ALO program that the students enjoy and the teachers don't begrudge. The system is under new leadership for the '08-'09 school year with a new Principal, so us parents will be monitoring it closely. One success for us this year was to showcase student work and abilities in the arts (fine art & graffiti, technology & photography, poetry & spoken word, 3-D models and replicas for science and math, drama, dance, comedy, and music) at the First Annual Jaguar Arts Festival in May. If you are interested in seeing how this event played out and is trying to change the culture of art at Meany, you can tune into Channel 26 starting June 27th through July, Tuesdays at 1 pm and Wednesdays at 5:30 pm to see footage of this event. As parents, we know it is our responsibility to fill in the district gaps in our children's education, so we are working hard to incorporate an art component to the ALO curriculum to keep it fun, expressive, critical and creative. We hope to reach more students through the medium of art who might otherwise not be interested in challenging themselves through ALOs. We also want people to challenge their misconceptions of Meany, the smallest middle school in the district, and to consider it an option for their child to become a big fish in a little sea.