Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Stragetic Plan and You (Updated)

So I've been a little surprised at the underwhelming lack of discussion here about the Strategic Plan. Maybe it's because it's a broad outline but it seems specific enough to decide if you think this is the direction SPS should go. No one who attended the West Seattle meeting weighed in. Maybe if someone attends the meeting tonight at Aki Kurose we'll hear what others see. So it looks like this Plan is going ahead and there doesn't seem to be much public discussion on it. There are things like:
  • do you agree on the focus on math and science?
  • class size is a constant issue for parents and yet this Plan, in my opinion, would continue to funnel I-728 money for class size reduction into other things like math coaches
  • is it folly to aim so high in some areas like going from 33% of 10th graders meeting or exceeding the science standard to 80% in 5 years? Why not try doubling it but 80% is probably unreachable even with the best of intentions and planning.
  • ditto for the 7th graders meeting or exceeding the math standard, going from 53% to 80%. This will all happen against the backdrop of shifting math curriculum and policies and it will happen in 5 years?
  • Graduates meeting 4-year college entrance reqs. going from 17% to 40%? Why would that happen if our high school graduation reqs. don't align with basic college entry requirements?
  • If there is a "School Performance Framework" where schools are identified on a "spectrum of excellence", how will schools and their communities feel about being named? We don't even have a public honor roll at most middle and high schools, how can we have a public honor roll for schools?
  • there is mention of developing and implementing effective annual evaluations of programs but as Charlie has mentioned previously , Board policy already exists for this purpose
  • and what about the "A" word? Accountability, the one that is splashed across every district piece of paper (although, oddly, not the information sheets handed out at the Strategic Plan meetings). What about that?
I get it's the end of the year; this is a known tactic in the District to introduce new ideas right when people are looking for to (and longing for) summer. A lot of this stuff just sails right over people's heads or they trust that the Board will get it right. But this is the basic framework for all that is to follow. As Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said at last night's Seattle Council PTSA meeting, there will be no new initiatives coming out for the next 5 years as they laser focus on this (especially since everything is now supposed to be sustainable with money following each step).

I did ask her about the assignment plan in the q&a. I mentioned that I understood the money was found to upgrade the technology for the assignment plan but that it would be awhile in getting that in order. I suggested that since the assignment plan is going to be so complicated and contentious that it might be better to use that time for more public meetings (and not schedule them all over some 2-week period). She smiled and said that what she had heard from parents was that they wanted diversity, neighborhood schools, choice and predictability. She got a big laugh. She said they are opposites and there will be lines drawn on a map that people will have to live with.

(Clarification: Dr. Goodloe-Johnson did not say first that there will be lines drawn on a map that people will have to live with; I did in my question to her. She merely echoed it back in her answer. Apologies for any misunderstanding I may have created. I will try to be clearer in the future.)

Update: I was reviewing my notes and left out one of the Q&As. A parent asked Dr. G-J how the Strategic Plan would impact alternative schools. She said that content would be specific to all grade levels (meaning, I believe, a standardized curriculum) but that schools could choose different delivery methods (keeping the alternative focus).

My suggestion is that every PTA put it on their agenda for next year to have one meeting devoted to what they want in an assignment plan. What are their concerns as a school community? This is especially important for elementary parents who are going to see this plan track their child for the rest of their academic career in SPS. If every PTA met and discussed this or regions did (NE, N, NW, etc) AND they spoke about what they found consensus on, it would be hard for the district to ignore. They can ignore a single parent concerns at a meeting on assignment but it would be very difficult to ignore elected representatives of each school or region speaking for hundreds of parents. I'm not suggesting that entire groups are going to agree on everything but I'll bet there are at least 2-3 things all might agree on (like we may want neighborhood schools but still want some degree of choice).


Charlie Mas said...

I think the lack of discussion here, and elsewhere, regarding the Strategic Plan is a result of both the generic and open-ended nature of the questions the district is asking the public and the lack of any real data or details to discuss.

What could any of us say about aligning math and science curriculum - other than why the hell weren't these curricula already aligned? What could any of us say about gathering student achievment data for the purposes of modifying instruction - other than why the hell isn't this alredy being done? In the case of these key elements, and in nearly all of the other key elements, the details are what matters and they are not yet determined.

SolvayGirl said...

I too have been surprised at the lack of interest in the strategic plan. I think some of it has to do with the vagueness of the plan--though you did pull out some details that deserve discussion (all of the percentages of goals). But I also think that some of us are just jaded.

You rightfully noted that all of this is once again happening when parents are overloaded with end of school events (our arts night is on Thursday) and scrambling to enroll our children in summer programs. Consequently, we don't have a lot of time to devote to activism. For me, I add all of my time constraints to the fact that MY area meeting is the NIGHT BEFORE the final presentation of the plan to the School Board. That doesn't make me feel like my comments will be considered at all, so why bother. The District usually does what it wants, so I'll just wait and see what they unveil on the 21st.

On the assignment plan, I was concerned about the apparent quote "She said they are opposites and there will be lines drawn on a map that people will have to live with."

As someone who lives in the Southend with a child who will enter high school in 2009, I am more than a bit concerned about "having to live with" lines drawn on a map--especially since the much ballyhooed Southeast Initiative is hanging by a fiscal thread. We fled public school for middle school because of the poor selection of choice in our neighborhood. We had planned to return to public for high school, but I need to feel confident that the District will make sure that ALL schools will offer a quality curriculum AND have high standards (that's even more important). My child MUST receive an education that will prepare her for college. She should not be held hostage to geography if the District is unable or unwilling to do what is needed in the Southend.

I felt that in the latest KUOW interview, MG-J brushed off the notion that there was much difference between schools depending upon the neighborhood, while in the same breath admitting that "there was a discrepancy in both rigor and expectations" from school to school.

What do others think about this? Can the District really make our schools more equitable and serve the broad range of students who live in the Southend? I honestly don't think the Northend schools have the range of socioeconomic levels as we do in the south. And that's the big factor.

SS said...

West Seattle report here- I was going to report in at the earlier posting request, but then Dan took it over with Math Monologs and I tuned it out. Sorry!

At the WSHS/District's Strategic Plan meeting parents were outnumbered by District probably 5:1 or worse. Really too bad to not see more families involved, but I guess word got out there that only 1/2 of the plan was being presented. Teachers did not seem evident either.

The power point from these meetings is available online. The "Our Goals- Where We Are Headed" page has some very alarming data, including "Graduates meeting 4-year COLLEGE ENTRANCE requirement" (currently at only 17%, goal for 2012 at 40%).
The question was asked how this was measured- SAT scores, college acceptance rates, remedial community college courses taken, etc? No, we were told that the 17% refers only to the # of Seattle students who graduate with the basic # of credit minimums required to apply for college, i.e. 4 credits LA, 3 ea. math & science, 2 WL, etc. Only 17% of our students!

On a side note, maybe we should not be surprised at how low the bar has been set. At a School Board meeting a couple of years ago, I remember Ramona Pierson stating that the district's measure for "college readiness" was based on 4 indicators:
1. WASL scores
2. GPA
3. class credits
4. "persiatence scores"

I was interested in their new "dashboard" system of making data available in a more timely & accessable method. By next fall, "version 1.0" jokingly referred to, should be online. For example, each school's summary of student's grades (summary of # of A's, B's, D's etc). will be posted not only at the end of each semester, but also at progress report time in order to track the overall progress of each school. Then, from the summary, you would be able to click & view more details on the subject- i.e. perhaps # of 9th grade students passing math at 1st semester or the actual AP test scores for a specific class.

There was discussion about the lack of separate honors classes, especially at the 9th grade level in many of the high schools. Some of the Strategic Plan members seemed surprised & concerned to hear this. It seems that "differentiated learning" (substitute for separate honors classes) works well in the school's perception, but not by the families whose students are at either end of the learning scale.

Take home quote from Maria Goodloe-Johnson, "When our students graduate they must be ready to compete" in today's world.

BadgerGal said...

I agree that the lack of response is related to it being hard to question the plan without any details. How do we argue with a "vision" and sweeping strategies without the details on HOW they will get done? I don't really have any disagreements with the strategies, just want to know more about the "how" they will be realized. The devil is in the details.

I was at the PTSA meeting last night - the handouts on each strategy with some more details on next steps at least gave a feel for the timelines they are thinking of for each strategy. Some are longer term but they seemed realistic.

Overall, I went to last night's meeting quite skeptical of what would be presented but came out more positive than I expected to.

MGJ is nothing if not determined and focused.

anonymous said...

The plan is just to vague right now, to comment much on. Sure, I would like to see a strong focus on math and science, but how will they accomplish that? Once they lay out a plan, then I will have something to bite into. Will it involve a new curriculum, new text books? Will it involve self elected science and math honors? Summer school? A gurantee of full year science for all grades in middle school?

Class size reduction: I too was surprised that this isn't even on the table, especially since it has been in the top 3 priorities of parent surveys, and PTA recommendations for several years.

And just on an aside, why don't Seattle middle school have an honor roll? Is it another exclusionary theory? Shoreline middle schools have honor rolls, and I see kids working hard to try to make them and be recognized.

reader said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reader said...

Whoops. Melissa, could you also please report on anything that transpired regarding special ed at the PTSA meeting last night? During the current leadership transition communications from the district on special ed matters have been dreadful.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Chris, I arrived late to the meeting during the Strategic Plan presentation (Dr. G-J was late because she was coming from the airport). There may have been mention of it but I didn't hear it nor were there any audience questions about it. This might be good to pursue (and hard) to the Board so that they know it has to be part of a total plan.

rugles said...

"We are creating a strategic plan to deliver excellence for all students..."

That's how it starts. Maybe parents are turned are off by how inarticulate this document is.

I thought it interesting that the verbs teach and learn do not appear in the document once. Plenty of adapts, aligns, implements,etc however.

This MGJ quote is what should be at the top of the page...

"there will be lines drawn on a map that people will have to live with."

Teachermom said...

I find it hard to discuss the strategic plan. I am interested in it as a parent, and completely overwhelmed by it as an SPS employee. Every day I get up and face the consequences of a poorly orchestrated system run by people who let their political infighting compromise their ability to be anything resembling professional.

I am so cynical about the possibility of a plan like this actually being carried out, given what I have seen over the past 10 years. But I do have some hope that MG-J will follow through and improve the system, mostly just because I have to.

For me the main issue is the "strengthening leadership throughout the system" piece. I have encountered 2 destructive principals, one ineffectual/incompetent one, and one excellent one during my time with SPS. They are supposed to be the "instructional leaders" of the schools. Central office is another place that needs a huge overhaul, and it looks like that is beginning. And thank Maude it is beginning with the special ed department.

Until this strengthening leadership piece is firmly in place, none of the other things will happen "with fidelity". So I would be heartened if it all began there.

I am watching and waiting, and I did give my opinion about the hiring practices at the Roosevelt meeting.

Charlie Mas said...

I was at the meeting at Aki Kurose tonight and opened our small group discussion with this question "the very first key element is to align math and science curricula - align them to what?" Carol Dava-Treat tried to answer that question, but never made herself clear. She ended up saying that the whole effort would come down to every school using the same textbook. Fortunately for all of us, Pat Sander was there, stepped in, and clarified the difference between Standards, curricula, and materials. I spoke briefly with Ms Sander and she basically explained that - despite what anyone might have told you - the state-defined grade level expectations are not being taught in Seattle Public Schools and - despite what anyone might have told you - differentiated instruction cannot occur in the absense of formative assessments and we have no formative assessments in math. Therefore - no matter what anyone might have claimed, there is no differentiated instruction in math in Seattle Public Schools.

Apparently the primary barrier to aligning curricula to the state-defined grade level expectations is simply teachers agreeing to do it. How the district will suddenly, magically get the teachers to do something that they have successfully resisted doing for over ten years is unclear to me.

For each one of these "key elements", ask them: Shouldn't we already be doing this? What barriers have prevented us from doing this to date? What will be done differently to overcome or eliminate those barriers?

anonyms said...

So what, pray tell, is a formative assesment??? And why don't we have it? Ok. I'll take the bait and look it up.

From Wikipedia:
Formative assessment is a self-reflective process that intends to promote student attainment [1]. Cowie and Bell [2] define it as the bidirectional process between teacher and student to enhance, recognise and respond to the learning. Black and Wiliam [3] consider an assessment ‘formative’ when the feedback from learning activities is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet the learner's needs.

In the training field, formative assessment is described as assessing the formation of the student. Facilitators do this by observing students as they:

1)Respond to questions
2)Ask questions
3)Interact with other students during activities, etc.

This enables the facilitator to evaluate own delivery, fog index and relevance of content.

Wow. You mean teachers should have to observe and assess students and then respond to the assessments???? No way! That's way too much to ask for. We're so lucky to have Pat Sander to explain everything to us.

seattle citizen said...

The newly created Data Team system that the district is now expecting its employees to use includes a heavy dose of formative assessment. The last post defined it somewhat, here's another way of looking at it:
Teacher teaches. Some students get it: which ones? Which ones didn't? Why not? Find out, then adjust teaching to address the need. It's a loop: Assess prior knowledge (or lack thereof), teach, reassess to determine gains in knowledge, reteach.
Charlie's right, to a degree: there is not a standardized system of formative assessment. There ARE teachers who use a variety of tools to assess and reteach, including formative assessments, but I suspect that in math, like in other subjects, it's all over the map depending on which classroom you are in. I believe the object of the district's Data Teams is to infuse some intentionality into the system, and also, where possible, some common tools and assessments so all educators are in the know, and students also get similar assessment tools so as they travel through the system they have some stability in how they are assessed.

The hitch with all this is that each classroom is unique, with maybe 30 unique learners, each at a different place and with different ways of learning. So a teacher could assess, teach to some levels and some learning styles, then reassess to adjust teaching and have an even greater disparity of levels to reteach to. This connects directly to:
a) accurate promotion in subject areas, so students are in fact prepared at each level;
b) resources for educators to assist in teaching to a variety of levels and styles (differentiation);
c) the common and standard forms of assessment that the district is trying to implement that allow educators to have a shared idea of what each student knows
d) resources available in different buildings that correlate to each other, so as students move they still have appropriate settings available;

e)a corollary: the ability of educators, supported by the district, to inject seriously remediation, sometimes in a pull-out configuration, for students who are experiencing temporary or ongoing difficulties in the classroom, not only to aid the student but to assist the other students in continuing their educations without ongoing disturbance.

reader said...

)a corollary: the ability of educators, supported by the "district, to inject seriously remediation, sometimes in a pull-out configuration, for students who are experiencing temporary or ongoing difficulties in the classroom, not only to aid the student but to assist the other students in continuing their educations without ongoing disturbance."

Seattle Citizen - in the move away (for the most part) from practice of stashing kids who have differen needs into self contained classrooms, the idea is to set up effective supports in the classroom proactively so that a child can learn and engage. There are supposed to be onsite experts who are tasked with the job of making this happen. It does not all fall on the shoulds of the teachers.

Instead of thinking of having kids leave who "disrupt," think, "hmmm, are they getting the supportive accommodations that will make their day go different, that will enable them to learn today?" This means bugging the district and the building administration to be sure that the delivery teams and services for children who need accommodations are doing their jobs effectively. What you describe blames the students who are having difficulties, instead of the system that is supposed to be supporting them. When kids whho don't have problems see that the system is making a big effort to accommodate and support ALL types learners they learn that everybody counts.

Folks, we need to keep pestering the district to provide the expertise that will result in effective accommodation for students with learning challenges. Please don't blame the students.

seattle citizen said...

Syd, I appreciate your correction. I guess it did sound as if I wanted "trouble" removed from the classroom. In some rare instances, this might be necessary, but you are right that the supports should be in place to meet the needs of a variety of students: academic, behavioral, physical...IN the classroom first. I was probably reflexively thinking of behavioral issues, where a student's actions/words cut into the classroom environment, but we would all do well to remember that with the proper supports AND engaging lessons, many of the behavioral issues go away.
But not all. And this is the difficult piece: What if there IS ongoing disruption? This conversation was going on in another thread, and I don't know the answer.
BTW, speaking of behavioural issues, the district has announced a new position, I think it's something like "Director of Support Services..." or something. The district IS addressing the inclusion issue, and working to address the needs of students who might traditionally been sidelined. These proposed supports include a "hub" where student needs are more firmly assessed and services identified (in schools), and also perhaps some sort of case-manager model to support students and families who are experiencing difficulties in their schools. The idea IS to look at more inclusion, and support for that inclusion

anonyms said...

The district already does have inclusion programs for students with disabilities. They actually work incredibly well, despite the "disability" bashers who posted on the inclusion thread a while back. Every year the district is being forced to open more of them because parents don't want their kids in special ed ghettos. Notably Salmon Bay and Eckstein (where 80% of the middle school inclusion students are) are very popular. They already are well supported and usually provide extra assistance full time in the classrooms. The main problem is that general educators tend to ignore the students with disabilities since they are supported by the programs instead of improving their own instruction... which would help everyone. Why not make more of these programs available? Why not allow a wider variety of students into them? Why not make the teachers, yes, use the feedback on assessments to influence delivery. There already is a "hub", it's the inclusion manager. The fear is though, that the district will water this down... and increase the caseloads.