Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Missed Opportunity (Danny Westneat's View)

Times' columnist, Danny Westneat, weighs in on the issue of two Seattle high schools (and others throughout the state) losing a $13M grant for AP classes because the collective bargaining law worked against it (and the WEA would not support teachers getting bonuses for students who passed AP exams). From his column:

"That's what Jennifer Wiley concluded. She's the principal of Seattle's Franklin High School. Like in a lot of schools, the kids there no longer are cutting it in math and science.

Last year 94 of Wiley's 300 sophomores passed the state's math test. Only 34 passed science. That means nearly 90 percent of Franklin's 10th-graders failed the science test or didn't bother to take it.

Anyone can see that's a crisis. So Wiley jumped at a chance to shake Franklin up.

The school was one of seven low-income Washington high schools to get a grant to dramatically expand its Advanced Placement program. The idea is to get all kids to try an AP class, no matter how behind they are. Then support them, relentlessly, with extra tutoring, training and other expensive help."

My first thought was "Ninety percent failed or didn't take the science test?" That's a lot of catching up to do because the science WASL will be mandatory to take and pass at some point (2012?). It's interesting because my son, a 10th grader, said that his classmates fear the science WASL more than the math WASL because they don't feel they were given enough preparation in middle school.

He continues:

"They said no because they felt it was too much like merit pay," a disappointed Wiley said. "What I heard expressed is that in Seattle schools our values are more egalitarian and mutually supportive. They felt this grant would favor some teachers over others."

Hoo boy. Could we possibly be any more politically correct? Or self-defeating?"

I can see his point but I can also see that for the union going down this road could lead to a slippery slope. Is it fair that high school teachers are eligible for extra cash that elementary and middle school teachers don't have access to? What about teachers in high schools who aren't trained to teach AP; would they resent their colleagues who do teach it? However, if teachers knew that they would be eligible for supporting students to do well, might it not encourage more teachers to teach at struggling schools?

He also says:

"Yet we're turning this down, on principle. Teachers, you could just give away your $100 payments. You could have even stuck it to the man by donating your "merit pay" back to your own union! Anything but this.

Not that it matters now, but this program also happens to work. For the students.

A Cornell University study in 2007 found that Texas high schools with the program, including the $100 payments, saw huge increases in kids both attending and passing the AP classes. There was a 30 percent increase in kids scoring at least 1100 on the SAT.

The payments "changed the culture," the study concluded. Academic rigor, like cash, became king."

He does have a point about what to do with the money. My thought had been to put all the money into a pool and split it among the teachers or have a nice lunch for all of them. Danny's right about donating it to the union as well.

There had been a recent article in the NY Times about some schools paying parents for coming to Open House, getting a library card for their kids, etc. That I don't like. But this effort gets kids' attention. Makes them willing to try and trying is sometimes the push you need to get them to see what the experience is like and to continue on.

As Danny said, it's a done deal now but maybe there needs to be discussion about this issue so that if there is a next time, there might be a way to find a plan to make everyone happy.


anonymous said...

When you have only 1/3 of a high school class passing the Math WASL, and only 10% of the class passing the science WASL, I don't think they need AP, I think they need support passing their regular program classes. Why is Seattle so insistent that every child has to take AP classes? It's college level work, and it's meant to offer challenge to kids working above grade level, as college prep. I don't see how offering it to struggling students could possibly help them? The money would be better spent adding support to them so they can pass their classes and WASL, so they can graduate.

Maybe I'm in the dark, and just don't understand.

anonymous said...

On a good note about SE High schools, I just say on the PI School Zone blog that all students who graduate from Cleveland high school, will be offered free tuition at S Seattle Community College. Now this is something that I could get behind!!

depthofspring said...

I completely agree with you, ad hoc.

The district's insistence on AP classes is overboard and a waste. I'm a student at Roosevelt and our own AP controversy is huge. There are a million arguments I could bring up, but the point is that AP is not for everyone.

Throwing "AP" at the beginning of a course name won't inspire a student. Besides, by giving students who aren't passing the WASL a college class completely defeats the purpose of APs.

I don't understand why the district wants everyone to take APs so badly. It's not beneficial for those who want to get ahead and it's a waste of money.

Before they start tacking on AP, they need to work on basic curriculum.

Mrs. Westbrook, I agree that the science WASL is intimidating. Nobody does well because nobody was taught this science. This year, there was a lot about volcanoes and motion and basic physical qualities, and this is stuff we should have been taught years ago, but weren't.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Depth of Spring, thanks for writing! We love to hear from students. (By the way, I also absolutely love your good manners in addressing me as Mrs. Westbrook but I'm actually a Ms. but really, call me Melissa.)

I agree that the answer is not AP but I also think that getting free money to help more kids try a challenge is a wasted opportunity. AP is certainly NOT the be all and end all to rigor or achievement.

I have been surprised at how little outcry there is over AP at Roosevelt but I'm not a student. If you could tell me more, I'd appreciate it. I certainly didn't hear from many parents.

depthofspring said...

Oh no, it's a really big issue among students.

http://voiceofroosevelt.blogspot.com/ might interest you

Everyone was upset at the beginning and there were petition floating around and heated debates in class.

It's escalated, though. Students were putting up propaganda posters (literally, just changed the words from Soviet and Nazi psoters). They were immediately ripped down and now everyone is upset about freedom of speech. Last week at an assembly, students held up "Save AP Euro" signs.
(I personally think this is going overboard and is now unprofessional, some students are trying to arrange a meeting)
Everyone is just really frustrated. No student thinks this is a good idea, including the freshmen who will have to take it.

I don't know, for a school that prides itself on rigor, it's not doing much to hold up the reputation.

We just want options. The students who want to get ahead should be able to, and the students who don't want to take AP shouldn't have to, and the students who aren't typically the "AP/Honors" students have always been welcome to take these classes.

Stephanie Jones said...

It's a tricky question. Research shows that students do better when given challenging coursework as opposed to remedial coursework (remember the film, "Stand and Deliver"?) Student academic performance, particularly in high school, involves more than basic skill or ability in most cases, and most dropouts do so, not because they can't learn, but because they are bored.

Complicated motivation and self-identity issues drive a lot of choices students make, including whether or not to take an AP or advanced class. On the one hand, the integrity of the challenging curricula is important; on the other hand, so is sending the message that challenge is for everyone.

I think it is critically important that high schools promote high academic standards for all their students. That said, I'd like to see us doing a better job of setting those challenging expectations for all more broadly in middle schools, so that more students discover earlier that an academic identity is an option.

Teachermom said...

I am a teacher. I do not want to be handed an extra few dollars here and there for helping my students succeed. It implies that we do our work like a mouse hitting a lever to receive a pellet. Receiving a salary I can live on and respect and support to do my job is what I would like.

If kids need the external motivators and someone has the money to give them to provide that extra incentive, I think there is a place for that. However, is it fair to only pay kids to pass AP exams? What about paying special education students when they meet their IEP goals? Only kids who can pass AP exams can be rewarded?

I'm sorry, but there are some kids who will not pass AP exams, no matter how many Benjamins you wave in front of their faces or their teachers' faces.

I often agree with Danny Westneat, but he has majorly over-simplified this one.

Charlie Mas said...

Just because something doesn't help everyone isn't a reason not to do it. Nearly everything helps just some of the people instead of all of them. This was money on the table, it was tied to practices that are consistent with the District's purpose and policy, and we walked away from it. That's a damn shame no matter which students would have benefitted or how many.

ad hoc is right; the 47% of high school students who don't pass the math WASL probably don't need AP. But there are other students who do. It doesn't have to be the same lessons for every student all the time. While the money may have been better spent on more urgent needs, it wasn't offered for those more urgent needs - it was offered for AP.

Hey, we're not going to walk away from the college money for Cleveland students just because the offer isn't extended to Rainier Beach students - are we?

Teachermom said...

"Just because something doesn't help everyone isn't a reason not to do it. "

I agree with this. I have no problem with kids getting paid to do well on the AP exams by an outside entity. I can wish that an equal amount of financial support came to students of differing abilities, but it is the entity's money, and they can support what they want with it.

But as a teacher, who is supposed to help all students who come to me with equal dedication, regardless of what perks may or may not come with it, I cannot personally participate by taking money for the achievements of some of my students. I think it is unethical.

Teachermom said...

I don't teach AP classes. I am an elementary special education teacher. And I know that every year I have kids who "click" and just start motoring ahead on their own, meeting all of their IEP goals handily. Some of my students do so well that they don't require special ed services anymore and exit special education. Should I get a specific amount of money for each kid who exits?

Then I also have kids who I pull out all the stops for. I work extra hours to give them some more individualized attention, and do extra research and professional development to understand their needs better. And it just doesn't come to them as quickly, no matter what I do. They may need special education services for a long time, maybe all through school.

I know AP teachers (all teachers) have this type of thing happen as well. You often end up working the hardest for the kids who are not so successful, and many kids who do very well will do well regardless of who is teaching them.

Additionally, when I was in high school, my AP French teacher told me not to bother taking the test, because I wouldn't pass it (she had some sort of issue with me that I never understood - my grades were fine in her class). I took it and passed. Should she have been given extra pay for my achievement?

I'm sorry, I just don't believe that the capitalist business model translates well into education. That doesn't mean that I don't support higher achieving kids. Heck, I am parenting one.

seattle citizen said...

1) How is it fair that those who teach AP classes have an opportunity to gain up to, what, $2500 for their teaching, while others, like special ed teachers, don't? Isn't the expectation that ALL teachers and educators are doing their very best? Why offer additional money to only a few?
2) Imagine a teacher with two AP classes (2x25x10=$5000) and three non-AP. Will the teacher work harder prepping and teaching the AP to get the extra money? Would the non-AP suffer? If the teacher is working equally hard to teach both, why not pay that teacher bonuses for ALL success?
3) The deal for Cleveland students to attend college SHOULD be offered to RB. Why isn't it? What about the RB students? Who will pay for THEIR college?
ALL education should be paid for by the public. Any money's given to the district from outside should be used to benefit ALL students. And raise ALL educators' pay. Do the counselors get an extra $100 for getting that student motivated for AP? Does the office staff, for taking care of the day-to-day? Do Iinstructional Assistants, who provide such valuable assistance to so many?

Stephanie Jones said...
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Stephanie Jones said...
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Stephanie Jones said...

Okay, but what about this scenario: I have been credentialed to teach HS math -- I took and passed AP calculus in high school; continued to take and pass several college math classes beyond; taught math up through geometry or Integrated II level -- but had I ever been asked to teach AP math, either calculus or statistics, I would have felt the need for SUBSTANTIAL external training, support, etc. because while my math understanding is strong, it isn't really deep enough to guide students who don't get the highest level curriculum easily, or to troubleshoot differential learning styles, etc. with the AP level courses. Yet I met the certification standards at or above the level of many current HS teachers.

An incentive bonus to get the training that would prepare me to teach those classes might have helped me to become an AP teacher. It might have enabled my district to offer more AP courses to more kids. We know that attracting strong math and science minds to teaching is a continual battle that schools are losing more often than winning. I am not sure how I feel about the particular methods of the grant program, but as I understand it, the incentive model was more about bringing greater math and science challenge to more kids in more schools than it was about bestowing special rewards on certain teachers. Having declined that that system, what else have we got to offer?

Stephanie Jones said...
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anonymous said...

As I said in my earlier post I think these children would have benefited much more by using these dollars toward extra support so they can pass the WASL and their general classes, and graduate. BUT, this was free money folks. It was a grant. How could we turn it down? It's like when Seattle ran Trish Dizko (sp?)and TAF out of Rainier Beach. What a shame. Why is Seattle so quick to run private dollars our of our schools? Sure, we need over sight, and a clear policy about accepting funds would help, but to turn $$$ away at a time when funding is at an all time low seems counter productive any way you slice it. There is a saying about Seattle that could not be more true, and I think about it all the time.. "Seattle is so liberal that it's conservative"

And Seattle Citizen brings up a good point about South Seattle CC offering free tuition only to Cleveland HS graduates. Why only Cleveland? Why not to all low income HS graduates, even if it had to be on a space available basis? Was there something more to the offer? Is it an incentive to increase Cleveland's enrollment numbers? It is a bit disheartening, though, that only one school is the recipient of such a great opportunity?

Charlie Mas said...

Sure, the offer to Cleveland students should have been extended to Rainier Beach students. But maybe there wasn't enough money for that. That does not mean that the offer should not be made to the students at Cleveland. Maybe they are building up to extended it to Rainier Beach as well.

And when it is extended to Rainier Beach, why shouldn't it also be extended to students at Franklin? Why shouldn't it be extended to EVERY student in Seattle Public Schools?

Sometimes there just isn't enough of a resource to go all the way around, so it only goes part way around. We should be grateful for what we get, no one is obligated to extend this offer.

anonymous said...

Well since we are on the topic of college access for everybody, I thought I would mention that some states have fantastic programs, like this one offered in Florida. It's called bright futures, and is funded by the lottery. EVERY public school graduate in the state of Florida, that meets minimum academic requirements is GUARANTEED a scholarship to any in state college. Many private colleges voluntarily participate as well.

Other states offer similar programs, and I am wondering why we don't have anything like this here in Seattle?

Here are the details and a link to the website.

Bright Futures is the name of a scholarship program in the state of Florida. It is funded by the Florida Lottery and was first started in 1997.

The Bright Futures program allows Florida high school seniors with academic merit the chance to earn a scholarship to any public college in the state. This scholarship does not apply if the student chooses to attend college outside the state of Florida. Many private colleges in Florida offer students paid tuition if he or she is a Bright Futures recipient.

There are three types of awards:

* Florida Academic Scholars Award: Full tuition is paid with the qualifying SAT score of 1270 or ACT score of 28, a weighted GPA of at least 3.5, 75 community service hours, and other various requirements.

* Florida Medallion Scholars Award: 75% of tuition costs are paid with the qualifying SAT score of 970 or ACT score of 20, a weighted GPA of at least 3.0, and other various requirements. (100% of tuition, labs and books are paid for qualified community colleges).The Florida Medallion Scholars Award now pays an amount equal to 100% of tuition and fees for college credit courses leading to an associate degree (including lab fees up to $300 per semester).

* Gold Seal Vocational Scholars Award: 75% of tuition costs are paid with a qualifying score of 440 on both the Critical Reading and Math, a weighted GPA of at least 3.0, and a weighted GPA of a 3.5 in a three credit vocational program.