Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Teacher Speaks Out Against AP

This op-ed, by teacher Web Hutchins, appeared in today's Seattle Times. It's a mixed bag.

He starts by saying:

"Recent pages in the Times have been awash with stories about the resegregation of our schools and new Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's plan to add tougher, "standards based" programs at low-income schools as a way to attract more upper-income, white families back to their neighborhood schools."

I'm not sure I ever heard Dr. Goodloe-Johnson say the Strategic Plan included standards-based programs at low-income schools to get back more private school parents. Did I miss something?

He's pretty harsh on AP courses calling them "a gilded WASL". Ouch.

He then says,

"Let's keep it real Seattle. If we're going to talk about social justice and equity in education, let's walk the walk. If we truly believe that all kids deserve an equal opportunity to realize their potential and achieve their dreams then we must shrink class sizes and de-emphasize standardized, test-based courses like AP."

I totally agree about class size and, across the board, this is what you hear from parents. I remember a conversation while I was standing in line at Zoo Tunes last year with a West Seattle parent who had opted for private school even though he had good public school options. He said the class size was the deal breaker. I've heard this from other private school parents; they just don't believe that larger class sizes allow the teacher to give enough individual attention.

I wish I could ask him what the opposite of standardized curriculum is. What does it look like? I'm not sure I know.

He goes on:

"On behalf of the thousands of Seattle kids on the losing side of the achievement gap, we need to admit that this is not the type of curricula that will engage them. Let's not pretend that adoption of AP "rigor" will inspire ninth-grade kids with sixth-grade reading levels to stay in school. Likewise, let's not pretend that the standardized AP approach of a "mad dash through the chapter and a test on Friday" is the best curricula we can give our most-highly-skilled students.

Look to our city's elite private schools for ideas. Kids at Lakeside and Bush do well on standardized tests and fare well in college admissions. Tellingly, however, their teachers are not forced to waste valuable class time and resources on mind-numbing "test prep" lessons. Kids at Lakeside and Bush do not take the WASL, and AP courses are not offered in their hallowed classrooms. Really, you can look it up."

Okay, again, what do does he think will work for kids on both ends of the spectrum? I got a little frustrated here with his put-downs of AP (and it's not perfect I'll admit) without a specific offering of what to do. He does say:

"For all students, real learning involves deep thinking and a thoughtful, personal encounter with ideas and concepts. Whether the topic is photosynthesis, parallelograms or Plato, the cultivation of avid learners and engaged citizens takes time. For struggling students, especially, success in the classroom requires their voices to be heard and their questions patiently and thoughtfully addressed."

Great, but in reality, what does that look like and how do you take kids from across the spectrum of ability to that place? (And, he doesn't mention the issue of classroom management where teachers would love, love, love to answer questions and have deep discussions except for the 2-5 kids who act out.)

And then he throws in that really old argument (sigh) that Lakeside and Bush don't do the WASL or AP classes. One, the law doesn't require them to take the WASL. That's one of the benefits private school gets you. That doesn't make them better. And no, they don't offer separate AP courses because - gently now - they get to pick and choose who gets into their schools. They get to have small class sizes. So the teachers come in with a small class of highly motivated (I hope at those prices those kids are motivated) students. He leaves out how many kids at those schools DO take the AP tests. You don't have to have an "AP" class to take the AP test.

The brief bio at the end says,

"Web Hutchins is the lead teacher in Franklin High School's John Stanford Public Service and Political Science Academy, a program that cultivates an ethic of service and active citizenship in students. He has taught history and English in the Seattle Public Schools since 1990."

I'm intrigued by that academy which I had never heard of; it sounds really interesting.


anonymous said...

Nobody is forced to take AP classes (with the exception of the watered down class at Roosevelt). Ap classes are optional, and available to kids that WANT or NEED the extra challenge. What is wrong with having an option?

Mr. Hutchins says that AP courses are not the type of curricula that will engage kids on the losing side of the achievement gap - and he may be right. But what about the kids at the high end of the scale? Do they count? The kids who need the extra challenge and are ready for it. Why don't they matter? Mr. Hutchins is so hyper focused on the low end of the achievement gap that he is excluding what may benefit kids on the high end of the gap? That is simply not equitable. And quite frankly it's getting old.

hschinske said...

Lakeside used to have AP classes. I don't know why they gave them up, but I suspect they got tired of having to teach a more and more prescribed curriculum. I am willing to bet, looking at the numbers of Lakesiders who take AP tests and the kind of scores they're getting (both higher than in my day), that many of their advanced classes are de facto AP classes. But why anyone should be surprised that hand-picked small classes of students who are already essentially at college level should do well on college-level exams is beyond me.

I am baffled, by the way, at Mr. Hutchins's suggestion that iambic pentameter is some horrendously difficult concept. I can see it doesn't *interest* most people, but it's not at all difficult to learn about: I don't recall any teacher spending more than five or ten minutes on it. And why is it bad for 50% of a history exam to consist of "objective questions"?

I would like to see more creative options for advanced work than just relying on more and more AP. On the Garfield tour I was told that they almost never get to offer their Shakespeare class, for instance, because they can't get enough kids to sign up for it: most of those who would be interested are locked into a full-year AP English class and can't take the electives. Seems a great pity.

Helen Schinske

Jet City mom said...

When lower income kids take AP classes & tests, they can have the AP fee subsidized, plus if they attend a school like UW, they can use the AP scores to place out of lower level classes, saving themselves and their family money.

How is that elitist?

When these same kids with their AP background apply to the same colleges that the handpicked students who graduate from the area's private schools do, they are viewed as equally competitive, or even superior to the students who have a prep school background.

Education is the tool to improve your potential- AP is only one way to do that it is true- but it is a way.

Charlie Mas said...

I gave Mr. Hutchins a more sympathetic reading. I think he did address the needs of high performing students when he said that they were well served by "deep thinking and a thoughtful, personal encounter with ideas and concepts". I didn't read his article as opposing AP classes so much as opposing the idea that AP classes were the one exact right solution for injecting rigor into our high schools.

I think that AP has morphed from serving as short-hand for rigor to becoming synonymous for rigor, and Mr. Hutchins doesn't want it to morph further - as it already has for some (like US News) - to becoming the one, only, or official definition and measure of rigor.

The problem, of course, is how can a lay person quantify rigor?

We had this problem when discussing advanced learning six years ago. We all agreed that APP and Spectrum should be more than just acceleration, the curriculum should be stretched in other dimensions as well. It should be deeper and broader as well as faster. It is easy to measure and confirm acceleration: we can see third grade students doing the fourth grade math. But how do we measure and confirm that they are being taught a deeper understanding of it? How do we measure and confirm that they are being taught a broader understanding of it? Consequently, although the curriculum was supposed to be stretched in three dimensions the acceleration, "working one year ahead" or "working two years ahead", became the short-hand for the difference in the curriculum even though that wasn't the only direction or even the most important one.

It can be difficult for a school to articulate where and how they are presenting rigorous curricula to students. It can be difficult for them to measure and confirm that rigor. It is tempting for them to get lazy and let the AP label do it for them. I can certainly understand how they might come to rely on it, and I can certainly see the danger in doing so. I think Mr. Hutchins is trying to make others aware of that danger.

With that personal history in mind, and knowledge of people's tendancies, I saw Mr. Hutchins article as a warning against making AP the definition of rigor instead of simply one example of it.

As a disclaimer/disclosure, my daughter has enrolled at NOVA, a public high school in Seattle with no AP classes, but with the highest average SAT scores of all of Seattle's public high schools. At NOVA, Mel and Mr. Hutchins would find the brand of non-standardized rigor he writes about.

Not that have anything against standardized curricula. In fact, the one thing about Mr. Hutchins' article that I didn't understand well was how "standardized, test-based courses like AP" work against all kids having an equal opportunity to realize their potential and achieve their dreams. I figured that is largely because Mr. Hutchins is severely limited in his wordcount. I'm sure that, given the opportunity and space, he could make himself more clear.

I think AP classes are extremely valuable and I would like to see them more broadly available, but I don't think they are the only solution to rigor in high school. And, as supportive of them as I am, I will acknowledge that they represent an extreme case of teaching to the test. With the College Board now reviewing and approving teachers' syllabi prior to granting accreditation to classes designated as AP, they are also becoming a clear example of standardized curricula. This is all true.

AP classes are ONE solution to rigor. There are others. Let's not focus too exclusively on AP as the one and only solution. I'm not saying - by any means - that we should leave it out. It definitely should be one of our options - but only one of several. That's the message I took from the article.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well said, Charlie. I should ask to sit in on a couple of NOVA classes; I was aware of how well their students do from Closure and Consolidation work. That does, again, ask the question: if one school is doing something well, why can't it be duplicated? If NOVA reaches students in a non-standardized why and they do very well, isn't there something to be learned and passed on to other schools trying to reach students?

Dorothy Neville said...

Charlie is right, I believe.

This is not a new argument, either. I suspect that one reason why AP succeeds while "honors" classes don't is that the teacher, students, parents and administration have an outside objective source for a recommended depth and pace. Otherwise it is all too easy to slow down the class when kids just don't seem to be getting it, or haven't done the reading or there's another assembly or field trip to interfere.

Didn't I read that AP teachers sometimes teach through the WASL testing whereas regular classes don't? What if a regular class teacher tried to get their students to do that as well? Would the students be grateful for the extra instructional time or would they revolt?

Just like Charlie's comment on the Meany document: there are specifics listed so you can tell that the teachers are doing their part.

That said, I don't think AP ought to equal rigor. As alluded to above, that also leads to the situation where the for-profit College Board starts turning your basic college Mickey Mouse course into an AP course. What's the profit margin for an individual test? Even if it is only ten bucks per exam, AP Human Geography raked in a profit of over a quarter million dollars last year (based on the RHS presentation figures).

Another valid and ongoing argument is the tension between depth and pace. Some claim that AP courses give up depth in order to have the pace. Some others claim that that hasn't been their experience. I suspect it happens sometimes, but other teachers can still maintain the depth. I suspect these are more gifted teachers that really grok depth in a different way than the garden variety teacher.

I think you have to have the class discussions to have the depth, you have to have the entire class reading the texts and having the teacher strong in facilitating discussion. That's how the students pull the more complex meanings from the readings and practice the critical thinking for themselves. But that's exactly what the inclusion model misses. When the "AP material" is optional extra reading, the students miss out on the most important aspect of rigor, the discussions.

Dorothy Neville said...

Seattle School increases rigor, science

(Seattle) Students need to know more science to understand the world and McKinley High School is determined to lead the way. "Half our students already take science," said principal Alex Selkirk, "but we need to reach that other half."

The half that elect science classes doesn't reflect the demographics of the school as a whole, so in a move to increase diversity in the science classes, all students at McKinley will now take a required science class their Freshman year. Selkirk explained, "Minority students don't find science relevant, vectors and molecules and endoplasmic reticulum just aren't in their vocabulary, so our Science Department searched for an alternative. They also wanted to make sure it was a college level class to ensure rigor."

They found one, a college level physics course taught at many universities around the country. Physics for Poets is an exciting course that engages students from all backgrounds without any of the usual barriers to learning, those complicated and old fashioned words like vectors or trusses, or an emphasis on dead white men such as Newton.

School Board Director Graham Bell asked,"Why make it mandatory?" Selkirk explained that if students had the option of this class or the currently offered sequence, that might lead to tracking. "We don't want to have the situation where one option is more popular than another." Director Mary Curry asked about the current physics course. That will still be available. With the new plan, students will take General Science (currently taught to Freshmen) in Sophomore year, Biology and Chemistry as upperclassmen. They will still have room for AP Physics by doubling up science classes and not putting a TA period in their schedules.

By putting this college level science course in every Freshman's schedule, McKinley is hoping that more students see themselves capable of learning science and electing to take additional science classes as upperclassmen.

Science Department Chair B. Chapman adds that more exciting changes will be coming. They are in discussions with the Mathematics Department, hoping to align Freshman Mathematics classes to the material in Physics for Poets. "Right now," Chapman describes, "Freshman take a wide variety of mathematics classes. We don't know which students will have had the necessary mathematics for the college level Physics for Poets, so we are working with the Math teachers to adopt a uniform curriculum. There are a few holdouts, but some teachers are interested, and Selkirk is helping convince the rest."

The School Board approved the plan, calling it a step in the direction of expanding rigor.

Momma Snark said...

I am sorry, but I just have to laugh at the idea that private school students are intrinsically more motivated than their public school counterparts. I think it may be true that their PARENTS are more motivated - motivated to spend more money on an education they believe is superior to the public option - but the same is not necessarily true of the students who attend these schools. In fact, I would argue that some parents send their kids to private schools to try to get them more interested and engaged in school, because their motivation is so low that a career in a large public school would be disastrous for them.

But back to the topic at hand: if the opportunity to take an AP class motivates some public school students (whether due to higher standards or the opportunity to save money in college), I don't see how that is a bad thing. And if the AP curriculum for a given class is too restrictive, etc., teachers can still teach an in-depth, high-level class in their subject area and have their students take the AP test at the end of the year. Kids at Lakeside and Bush do this all the time.

anonymous said...

I think the reality is that SPS high schools are not offering a rigorous enough curriculum for the average and above average student, and families see APP, IB, and AP courses as their ticket out of mediocrity. Sadly, these offerings are one of the only routes to rigor and college prep in SPS and until that changes and all classrooms are challenging for EVERY student the appeal and popularity of AP will continue. I agree that AP should not be a be all end all, but it's all we have right now.

Michael said...

The article says, "Tellingly, however, their teachers are not forced to waste valuable class time and resources on mind-numbing "test prep" lessons. Kids at Lakeside and Bush do not take the WASL, and AP courses are not offered in their hallowed classrooms."

Well, maybe their teachers are not "forced" to waste valuable class time and resources on test prep because their regular curriculum already teaches kids what they need to know for any standardized tests. Maybe the teachers there don't have to teach 9th graders with a 6th grade reading level because the schools the kids came from taught them how to read (and made sure they knew how to read), and because their whole curriculum is, essentially, an AP curriculum.

anne4610 said...

Can we talk more about the need to shrink class sizes? I can't believe I don't hear more about that topic on this blog or elsewhere. I think it is tragic that many kindergarten classes have 28 students in them. How can any learning take place? My child will start kindergarten in the fall, and I chose SPS (over private school) because our neighborhood school traditionally has had smaller class sizes (like 20-22), but the recently released assignment numbers for our school for fall '08 show class sizes of 28-30 (due to the high demand for the NE cluster elementary schools), plus another full kindergarten class, so now neither the class nor the school will be small for my child, and I am extremely disappointed. I am with those other families for whom class size is a deal breaker. Although private school would be financially challenging for my family, the class size issue is so important to me that I am willing to make the necessary sacrifices. Because it is now too late to make a change for next year, I am going to head into the coming school year with an open mind (especially because I SO value the opportunity to send my child to a neighborhood school, which I think is so important for a variety of reasons, including building a sense of community), but if a 28-child classroom and 500+ child school turns out as I fear it will, we will not be returning to SPS next year.

Does anyone know if there is ANY limit on class sizes in SPS for elementary, or whether ANYONE at the District cares about this issue? I saw nothing of it in the strategic plan. Disappointing, to say the least.

parent1 said...

Yes. There is an SEA limit of 28 kids per class for elementary school. After that, teachers must receive extra compensation for the extra students. At 30 kids per class and above, an aide must be placed in the class. The quality of aides varies widely... some do practically nothing, others do a ton.

SolvayGirl said...

I agree with Anne4610...but I have to also think that rigor in the classroom is directly related to class size. If a teacher has 28+ students that cover a broad range of abilities it would be quite difficult to gear instruction to serve all their needs. Someone is going to get short-changed.

I think that is why so many parents go nuts trying to get their children into Lowell and thus Washington and Garfield. Many of them spend upwards of $500 to have their children tested privately to assure a spot in Lowell. I know people who drilled their kindergarteners to "pass the test" all because they knew that if their child got into the AP program they would be assured to be in a classroom that, albeit large, was made up of kids who were able to handle rigor.

We switched to an independent middle school primarily because of the class size issue. I knew my child would easily fall through the cracks in a large class--especially if there were children who needed a lot of attention from the teacher either because they were struggling or disrupting the class. Since middle school is such a crucial time, I wanted my child to have the best experience she could and come out an eager learner and prepared for high school. So far, our hopes have been fulfilled.

anne4610 said...

Solvaygirl: Wow, to hear that your "hopes have been fulfilled" is a pretty amazing statement. Will you share the name of the independent middle school your child attends?

Also, I agree that rigor can often relate directly to class size, which is why I find it so surprising that the strategic plan says nothing about class size. Reducing class size could potentially solve a lot of the problems that exist in SPS today and also would help retain, win over, or win back families leaning toward or already attending private schools. I just don't get why SPS isn't talking about it, and parents seem to have given up on the issue.

hschinske said...

It depends on the private school whether the students there are more intrinsically motivated. It's pretty much impossible to get into some schools without being a highly motivated student, while other schools take pretty much anyone who isn't in trouble and whose parents will pay the freight.

I don't think I have ever heard of a single public school system that has managed to get enough money to get class sizes down anywhere near private school levels. (I would be ecstatic to be proved wrong on this, and may well be wrong, having not done any research.) I've heard of some that get class sizes down to where the teachers are not inherently overworked, but that's quite a different matter than getting them down to optimal size for learning.

Helen Schinske

anonymous said...

There are no public schools that have class sizes as small as private schools here in Seattle. However, when we were researching moving to the east coast a couple of years ago, we found many mid sized school districts with class sizes of 12-15 kids per class. If they can do it, why can't we?

seattle citizen said...

Ironically, there ARE classes in SPS that are small, and these are often to be found in schools that are suffering from "flight." There is a lag time between when student enrollment goes down and FTE goes down, and there are also budget decisions that support added resources to schools that are deemed to be "in trouble." Note, for instance, the SE Initiative. Not only does it add a funding piece to teachers (they have to sign an additional contract with provisions like home visits and following a set curriculum, or they become "displaced" and need to seek other positions) but it also, if I'm not mistaken, adds FTE to the three schools.
This suggests that there is some flexibility in funding for FTE (and as others have noted, there are also quite a few FTE tied up in coaching) but enrollment and union issues, among others, might ot result in optimum use of FTE. Of course, to get anywhere near 12-15 of those east coast schools (are you SURE??? That seems just...too good to be true, and also very, very expensive) we would need more money

SolvayGirl said...

Anne...My daughter is at Explorer West, a small (90-student), 6-8 located in White Center. The school is made up primarily of middle-income families who have sacrificed (and have assistance from grandparents like we have) to afford the tuition. We don't have cable, fancy cellphones, eat out much, or shop at stores other than Fred Meyer, Target and Goodwill. Their tuition is reasonable (higher than the parochials, but not as high as the upper-crust schools). They have decent financial aid, and specifically offer scholarships to Rainier Scholars. Graduates go on to other independent schools that range from Seattle Lutheran to Forrest Ridge, and public (primarily the IB program at Sealth—but one got into Garfield—and Rainier High in the Highline District as many of the families come from Burien).

They have a strong focus on sustainability and outdoor education. The curriculum is rigorous without being ridiculous. The language is Latin. There are full visual art, music and drama components as well.

The teachers all really know your child, their strengths and weaknesses. A real difference is that teacher conferences come twice a year (Fall & Spring) and consist of a three 15-minute blocks with teachers grouped by topic--art/music/drama, etc.) I was appalled when I heard from friends with kids at Washington who said they didn't even bother with the conferences because it was such a cattle call.

I am constantly dismayed at how little value our society in general places on public education. When we can fund an unjust war, or waste billions on corrupt contractors, it is ridiculous that we cannot put more money into educating our future.

hschinske said...

From Encarta: "In the 2002–2003 school year Maine spent $10,288 on each student’s education, compared to a national average of $9,299. There were 11.5 students for every teacher, one of the smallest class sizes in the nation. Of those older than 25 years of age in the state, 87 percent had a high school diploma, compared to the national norm of 83 percent."

Now, Maine's situation is probably not quite as wonderful as it sounds -- Seattle public schools have a student-teacher ratio of about 14:1 overall, and you sure don't see actual class sizes that low under ordinary circumstances. But it's pretty good.

Helen Schinske

hschinske said...

From http://www.sungazette.net/articles/2006/09/04/fairfax/news/ffx886.txt:

"Going strictly by federal-government statistics, Fairfax County Public Schools has the lowest student-teacher ratio of the 25 largest school systems in the country. But county school officials said there's much more to those numbers than meets the eye.

According to U.S. Department of Education figures for the 2002-2003 school year, which are the most recent numbers available, Fairfax County schools had 13,947 teachers for 162,585 students - an 11.7-to-1 student-teacher ratio.

The next-lowest ratio was 14.7-to-1 in Cobb County, Ga., an Atlanta suburb with 100,389 students and 6,807 teachers. The highest ratio, by a considerable margin, was 30.6-to-1 in Detroit, which has 173,742 students and just 5,683 teachers.

Fairfax County school officials said they try for an average of 25.5 students per class, but that some categories of student require more teachers than others.

“It's always hard to do apples-to-apples with this sort of thing,” said Carl Thompson, a coordinator in the school system's budget office.
The national figures likely count “teacher scale” employees such as reading specialists, guidance counselors, librarians, audiologists and other school employees who work with students but not in the classroom, he said.

Special-education classes have lower student-teacher ratios and are staffed according to federal mandate, Thompson said."

hschinske said...

Not sure the student-teacher ratio figure I gave for Seattle was correct. If anyone has an official source, that would be nice -- I've no more time to look for it right now.

Helen Schinske

seattle citizen said...

sheesh...googled S-T ration and SPS and came up with a bunch of websites, first few yielded these figures:
just goes to show...

anonymous said...

"The highest ratio, by a considerable margin, was 30.6-to-1 in Detroit, which has 173,742 students and just 5,683 teachers."

Did you know that Detroit has one of the highest drop out rates in the country at 75%. That's right only 25% of their students gradate high school. Class size matters.


One of the cities we looked at moving to on the East Coast was Portsmouth NH, right outside of Boston, MA. I'm not sure what the student/teacher ratio was, but class size was 12 in elementary. I know this because we sat in on a couple of classes. Portsmouth's drop out rate is 6.6% That's right 94% of their students graduate high school.

Class size matters!

anonymous said...

I don't know what Seattle's teacher to student ration is, but I can tell you that my 4th grader has 30 kids in his class, and one teacher. No aids.

He has 30 in his PE class with one teacher, and over 30 in band with one teacher.

That would make me think our ration for gen ed classrooms in schools that are full is 30:1

The ratios are lower in under subscribed schools and especially in special ed classrooms (sometimes as low as 1:1). These average into the calculations and make it look like Seattle has a lower student to teacher ratio. The data is skewed - it should be aggregated.

I don't know any classrooms that have aides to reduce class size. There are aides that come into gen ed clasrooms to work with a specific spec ed or IEP student, but not to help with the entire class. There are student interns that help out in some schools, but their placement is not consistent among schools and their service is voluntary. And newer teachers (who need an intern the most) can't even get one because they are not considered skilled enough to be mentors yet.

So unless you are in a poor performing school that can't attract enough kids to fill its classrooms, are in a special ed class, or are lucky enough to have a college intern in your classroom, the ratio in Seattle is 30:1 in elementary - and even higher in MS and HS.

Charlie Mas said...

Just a few quick comments (well, quick for me):

We don't talk much about shrinking class size because that directly translates into money - money that the District doesn't have.

That said, let me suggest three potential ways that the District could have the money for class-size reduction:

1) Redeployment of "coaches" into classrooms. If principals were freed of some of their business and HR duties (by re-assigning those tasks to a School Business Officer) they could more effectively perform their duties as instructional leader, which would obviate the need for so many coaches.

2) Targeted class size reduction. Read what people write about the need to reduce class size. Much of of the need is driven by low-performing students who demand extra attention. If the low-performing students were routed to an intervention program they would be better served. In part because we could reduce class sizes in that program and run with larger, yet more manageable, classes in the general education program. The number of students and teachers wouldn't change, but the students who could work in larger classes would and the students who need smaller classes would get them.

3) City management of District property. The District does a dreadful job of managing their property and they spend way too much of their time and energy on it. The City, on the other hand, does a wonderful job of managing their property. So how about the District leases all of their property (retaining ownership) to the City for a dollar a year and then the City leases it all right back to the District for a dollar a year. Only the City retains the annual $35 million expense of managing and maintaining the property. That would $35 million a year of totally discretionary money back into the District's wallet. That's a big deal for the District, less so for the City. If the City doesn't want to cover it out of their current revenue, they can assess a special tax for it. A $35 million reduction in their taxing authority is not a hindrance for the City of Seattle.

I would also like to comment on what SolvayGirl1972 wrote:
"Many of them spend upwards of $500 to have their children tested privately to assure a spot in Lowell."

As to why lower class sizes weren't mentioned in the Strategic Plan, that's because the Strategic Plan is not a Strategic Plan. It doesn't map out a course for the District. It is a perfectly brilliant document and plan, but it is a plan for the introduction of sound personnel, project, and process management practices at Seattle Public Schools - not a Strategic Plan for the District. Let's see it for what it is, regardless of the title.

Finally, I want to be very clear that private aptitude testing of your child does not assure you of any result. It may get you a more accurate result, but not necessarily a higher one. To suggest that the high results of these private tests are available for sale would be a baseless slander against the professional community that conducts these tests.

anonymous said...

I have a question:

Has anyone had private testing done for their child for Spectrum/APP placement and the test results showed that the child did not meet the requirements for APP placement? Just curious.

seattle citizen said...

addressing your points:
1) but schools don't HAVE business officers. While I agree that putting coaches back to teaching is wise, I'm not so sure that principals' day-to-day business management could be transferred to a "business officer" that doesn't exist (unless I'm out of the loop). It might be possible to delegate some of the day-to-day around to other building admin, or even to BLTs, but otherwise...a new FTE in each building for Business Officer? Seems to negate the savings from coach-to-teacher transfer.
2) We already (sort of) have the "routing" model for students needing more intervention. It's possible that some of the existing (reconfigured) "safety net" programs could pick up more students who aren't successful at being in a general ed classroom, thus make better use of all FTEs by adding students to some of the smaller classes in safety net schools. But there are old problems with this: This could be seen, if not done delicately and with much documentation and support, as a mere shuffling of "problem" students back down that hallway to some place out of the way. SpEd students have had years of this, and IDEA and LRE were created to combat this. Also, some students (and a disproportionate amount of minorities and low-SES) are excluded from general-ed by suspension and explusion already. Unless there are safeguards against this practice, and increased support to keep students in general ed classrooms rather than move them out, then there might be issues with this proposal.
3)Maybe I'm missing something, but doesn't this just shift 35 million in building management to the city, rather than the district? Maybe we'd save some if city was better at it, but it looks like just shuffling the taxpayer's money around.

Finally, when I was in college, I was a member of my colleges assessment study group (state wanted to implement standardized assessments at sophmore level to assess student learning; colleges asked for a year to study issue, I joined our college's group.) As a result of that year's study of various assessment methodologies, I became interested in the apparent economic disparity between those who could afford test prep and those who could not. I vowed to take the GREs three times to experience this for myself: once cold, once after studying by myself, once after a test-prep course. I ended up only taking it twice for this "test": First I lightly perused a test prep book and then took test, then I paid good money for test prep class and took test. I impoved my score by about 25 percent.

SolvayGirl said...

I was not implying that people were buying their slots at Lowell, but only illustrating how important it is to many families to make that cut. It might not be so if the other schools could offer, as you suggested, classes that did not have to reach a broad range of ability. I know people who, though not 100% sold on AP, went for it when offered because it gave them access to the cities "best" schools and a cohort of motivated, capable students.
Ad Hoc
I know of at least one child who did not get AP status--though under the new rules their family could have successfully appealed. They did get Spectrum status with the private testing.

SolvayGirl said...

I want to note...in case a tirade against tracking comes down. This would not be as much of an issue if we had smaller class sizes. The problem with a broad range of abilities in a class comes primarily when there are 25-30+ kids. I don't see how many teachers could easily serve all of those kids well if they have a range of say reading level from 3rd grade level to 8th grade level in a 5th grade class.

seattle citizen said...

Yes, you're right. Smaller class sizes would absolutely make it easier to teach to a range.

If things went as we would hope, there wouldn't be such a range, anyway. Social promotion, parent/guaridan/community support, SOME stnadardization of classroom curriculum/lessons, improved (and common) assessments and follow-through on each child K-12 on the results of those assessments...Improved access to and delivery of curriculum/lessons that allow for a wider variety of students to connect to lessons, improved access to a wider variety of outcomes (provide students hope by opening up the range of opportunities, provide access to funding for post-high school opporunities including, but not limited to, two and four year colleges and other career certification programs...)

There is much that can be done in classrooms and across classrooms and grade levels to provide students with a more solid footing, no matter where they come from.

jp70 said...


Just wanted to let you know that even though your NE Seattle school took 28 kids, it doesn't mean the class size will be 28 in the Fall. When they take the kids they budget in people who won't take spots due to going private and let the class size drop before moving to the wait list. This is my understanding anyway. I read that is why Bryant took less kids than some schools like Laurelhurst or View Ridge because historically more people in the VR and Laurelhurst reference areas choose private schools than in the Bryant reference area.

seattle citizen said...

On the issue of "tracking" students out of a classroom to provide a more congenial gen ed environment:
We should give the district credit for its efforts so far on "safety net." They are moving forward with a couple of things that hold promise, not only for students who might otherwise fall out of the system, but for the students who go to school with those students.
1) a "hub" to identify the needs of students who are not "successful" in a gen-ed classroom.
2) a reconfiguration of the programs to meet those needs
3) the possibility of case managers to assist in supporting those students via school visits, home visits etc
4) discussion about differentiation, so as to meet a wider variety of needs, including those of some students who are disconnected precisely because the classroom work is a)boring to them, b) beyond or below level.

This stuff is still in the embryonic stage, but with support it will result in a more efficient use of resources, a fairer provision of resources to those how need them, support of classroom instruction to meet needs in the classroom...

There's hope here.

SolvayGirl said...

I just wish the embryo could grow a bit faster. With a daughter who will be entering high school in 2009, I am concerned that the changes on the way will not happen in time to benefit her.

This will be a year when hope will have center stage. May we see it come to fruition in many places, starting at the top!

seattle citizen said...

I agree that this is the year that "hope will have center stage" and it's important for the district to capitalize on this hope: a mad rush to gather input from stakeholders, hold meetings that are conversations rather than break-out sessions with questionaires, document and publish this input and the resulting decisions by district, more decision-making that is, well, decisive (and based on well-founded research, best practices, and the input of the community...)

Now is the time for action, and lots of it. The Strat Plan IS a firly good operational guide; now is the time to demonstrate to the citizenry that their hope is not unfounded.

Of course, that means the citizens will have to step up, make some concessions, be eloquent and persistent....it'll take lots of work from all of us.

parent1 said...

Nobody wants their kid to be marginalized and tracked into some "intervention program". I suggest you go look at some of the lovely "preschool forever" self-contained special education classes sprinkled across the district, to get an idea of how the district provides an "intervention program." And "tracking" will be a civil rights violation for the poor minority students who would, inevitably, get stuck in something like that.

We have several excellent models for differentiated instruction. I don't understand why posters here poo-poo the idea. Montlake provides great education in very large, multiage-multigrade classes which include students with severe disabilities and students who are APP qualified. The Montessori programs we have are very popular and are designed explicitly for differentiation: multiage and multiability. Lots of excellent private schools have multiage classes too, they are popular and work well and feature differentiation. Why not expand on these things that work?

anonymous said...

Most parents would agree that differentiation is a great and inclusive way to teach a broad range of students, but thus far in the vast majority of SPS schools it is not happening effectively. It is difficult to do with large class size, and even the best teachers will tell you that they struggle with it. As for montlake - have you looked at their test scores? They are well above average at 97% passing the reading WASL, 92% passing the writing WASL and 80% passing the math WASL. Have you looked at their free/reduced rate lunch students? It is 12% which is Well below the district average. That tells you that the large majority of students are affluent, and performing way above grade level. I'm sure there are a handful of students performing below grade level but not enough to use this school as an example of a school that is successful with differentiation. There's not much to differentiate.

parent1 said...

Montlake has a level 4 inclusion program. A level 4, low incidence severely disabled program to be exact. And they're in all the classes, with very little support (1 aide, 1 teacher, somewhere in the building), with a significant number of APP qualified students, and with everybody in between. That means there are plenty of kids with differing abilities at Montlake. Each class has multiages. That means the difference in their ages alone, provides lots different abilities simply due to age. If you add those two hugely differntiating factors together, well, you get "difference" and lots of it. And the school deals with it. 12% poverty is also not "nothing", it too is a difference. It's ridiculous to deny that.

Then there's Graham Hill. It has an autism inclusion program (level 4) and a Montessori which has multiage class and grades. By all accounts, it's a very successful school, comletely based on differentiation.

but thus far in the vast majority of SPS schools it is not happening effectively

The reality is "thus far" is some schools haven't tried it, and lots of naysayers like you complain about those attempts. But with class sizes at 25, 30, 35, and up... they're going to have to start trying diffentiation a lot more, if they want anything to work.

parent1 said...

Yes Montlake has great test scores. That's at least one measure that means it's doing a great job providing differentiated instruction.

SE Mom said...

About private testing to get into Spectrum/APP - private testing in no way assures a family of being accepted into Advanced Learning programs at Lowell and Washington. A kid has to meet even higher testing thresholds when using private rather than district testing scores for admission on an appeal. My kid got into Spectrum and we pursued private testing for APP - she came very close to the required threshold but was denied.
They are very stict about the testing requirements. And from what I know from professionals who do testing, including friends and relatives in the field, integrity is paramount.

Melissa Westbrook said...

It is more likely with larger class size to have less differentiation, not more. Teachers don't have the time to try to lesson plan for that many kids at different levels. The research I read (Coalition of Essential Schools which Hale is a member of and follows says that inclusion is important but class size negates a lot of differentiation efforts). And, if you are talking about middle and high school students, you have far more discipline problems which adds another layer of complexity to the issue.

anonymous said...

Parent1 perhaps you could disaggregate the test scores at Montlake? Can you give the scores of the 12% FRE students? The African American students? The level 4 spec students (if test scores apply to this group)? The white students? The 88% of students that are not low income? This data would be relevant to me in considering whether Montlake does a good job with differentiation.

I am not denying that Montlake has a small population of low income students and a small level 4 inclusion program. However, these students only make up a small percent of the student body and do not represent a large enough group to convince me (without disaggregated data) that this school is successful with differentiation.

Montlake is one of the most affluent schools in the district. The great majority of their families are affluent and the great majority of kids are performing above grade level. The true definition of differentiation is that all children's needs are met and all children are challenged.

anonymous said...

Why would a student who does score high enough on the Spectrum/APP test given by the district, score high enough when tested privately? Does the district use different tests than do the private entities? Do they administer them differently (one on one opposed to a group setting)? This is very interesting to me.

Jet City mom said...

Our oldest was privately tested as part of a different program, by the Dr. who established the Early Entrance Program at the UW & found daughters IQ ( using the standard assessments- wisc wIAT stanford/binet) to be upwards of 160. Still didn't qualify for the minimum enrichment program in Seattle schools ( using Seattle school group testing).

We felt that a program that doesn't sufficiently identify students using their own screening and forces families to go outside the system to use individualized methods of identification- wasn't too interested in families of students who weren't already comfortable with all the hoops that SPS made you jump through to get a " good enough education".

Odd- but this blue collar family got a better response from private schools.

No we weren't low income enough, most years to count as low income for SPS records. But that is a pretty low bar. Just try paying for housing and medical care in this city making $45,000 before taxes for a family of four. About double what it takes to qualify for FRL though but too much to get anything publicly subsidized.

I'd like to see the FRL rate reevaluated, to see what numbers really look like.
Nobody likes to see the poverty rate go up though so it won't happen.

hschinske said...

Ad hoc asks why students would score differently on private testing than on the school tests. Yes, different tests are used (actual IQ tests, such as the WISC-IV or S-B V, rather than the CogAT, a multiple-choice grade-level screening test), and they are given one-on-one, with the psychologist taking time to put children at their ease.

Also, any child may happen not to do very well on one test on one day, and the younger the child, the more likely that distractions such as boredom or needing the toilet may have a large effect. (My son came out of the kindergarten CogAT screening racing for the bathroom.) Hence the large number of kids who do much better on one CogAT administration than on another (one of my kids went from something like 54th percentile one year to 99th the next).

Helen Schinske

Maureen said...

parent1 how are kids assigned to multiage classrooms at Montlake? I assume that advanced 2nd graders combined with less advanced 3rd graders and so on; the kids aren't assigned randomly? Multiage classrooms potentially seem like a great way to deal with kids who may benefit from 'accelerated' work, but aren't necessarily 'gifted' (I believe I've seen a distinction like this made by some of the APP advocates here). Applying this system more widely could free up space at Lowell and Washington for kids who truly have special academic needs. Is there a resistance to it on the Distict level?

I think that Montlake is a great school and does a great job with its population but... One thing to keep in mind about Montlake (any school really) FRL numbers is that there is no way for us to use them to distinguish between situational poverty (eg, parents are UW grad students) and real poverty (eg, parents never graduated from HS). Clearly the test results for those populations aren't comparable. Same for special ed populations: an Aspergers group will give you different scores than a developmentally delayed group.

I also agree with classof 75; we need a better measure of poverty. The children of the working poor have most of the same issues as those on FRL (and in fact may be the same kids from one year to the next) but schools that have a high concentration of those kids don't get the same breaks as schools with high FRL numbers. I also sometimes wonder about cultural effects: anecdotally, asian esl families are less likely to apply for FRL than other poor populations (maybe from pride and self reliance, or maybe because the lunches are too full of surplus cheese!).

Dorothy Neville said...

My kid was at Lowell APP for five years and year after year, talking with new parents I heard the same story. That they tried to make local school work, that the local (or alternative or Spectrum or other choice) school had lots of advantages, some teachers (or whole school) tried to make an effort to meet the needs, but it just didn't work. Reluctantly they moved child to APP and almost always it turned out to be a successful move, the right decision.

I heard this from parents of kids moving from many schools including Bryant, View Ridge, as well as Montlake and Bush.

Yes, a few parents want the supposed badge of parenting perfection that they think goes with APP, they drill their kids to master the qualifying tests. What percent of these kids stay in APP? My anecdotal --- so therefore incomplete --- evidence is that they tend not to stay as they really do not belong and the school pace doesn't work.

Many more parents, from my experience, move their kid to APP out of desperation.

And then there are some other APP qualified kids who, based on their personal needs, their experiences with particular teachers and schools do not ever feel the need to move. Great to have that option.

I also have two friends that have had APP qualified kids but because of challenging family situations could not deal with the inconveniences associated with the commute. In both cases, their children have had some disastrous elementary school experiences. Being at Lowell would most likely have mitigated those, but would have caused others.

Charlie Mas said...

The district does not have school business officers, but it should. There ratio of SBOs to schools doesn't have to be one-to-one. One SBO could probably handle the administrative work of three schools. There are some economies of scale that can be realized. The idea is to free the principal to do the work that the principal does best and is trained to do: instructional leader, and putting the administrative work on the desk of someone trained to do that work.

We do NOT have effective intervention programs for students working below Standards. If we're going to wait until they arrive at safety net programs then we have waited too long.

Any such intervention program should be mandated from the District level based on assessments and progress reports. Schools have shown that they will not intervene. Schools have shown that they will commit social promotions with almost perfect consistency.

Any such program should be extended, intensive, and enriched. The purpose of the program - rather than perpetual pre-school - should be to accelerate the students' education to get them back to grade level, outfit the student with study skills, and return the student to the general education program as quickly as possible. The students coming out of this program should return as exemplary students in the top half of their class.

As for "problem" students, many of them act out because they aren't ready or able to do the work in the class. Bear in mind what is cause and what is effect here. Are they behind in school because they act up or do they act up because they are behind in school. Let's get them up to Standards and I think a lot of the behavior problems will go away.

Will the program have a lot of minority students and a lot of students from low-income homes? You bet. That's how you close the academic achievement gap: by getting every student up to Standard. And how are you going to do that if you don't accelerate the education of the students who are working below Standards?

Don't worry about stigmitizing them by diverting them into the program. Part of the reason that the program has to include enrichment is because the lack of enriching activities has been demonstrated to be a contributing cause to the gap, but part of the reason for the enriching activities is to keep the program from seeming like a punishment or a boot camp. Also, the goal is to quickly return the kids to their general education programs - they don't stay in the program for long. Third, when they come back they show themselves to be among the best prepared students in their class - the program does not get the reputation of being for dummies.

Differentiation sounds nice, but it is very difficult even for very talented teachers. It is rarely done at all and almost never done well. Let's stop pretending that it can be instituted on a wide scale.

Disaggregated numbers for Montlake are available. But it doesn't matter. Why pick on Montlake? If someone is going to say that differentiation is possible because it's done at these three schools, then they are making the point for the other side of the argument. If you can name the three schools that can do it successfully, then clearly it is rare and difficult.

another mom said...

Back to Lakeside...
Our eldest is a graduate of Lakeside. I can assure you that while the WASL's are not administered, Advanced Placement Exams are. The high school courses offer sufficient breadth and depth and therefore do not need the AP label. From their website,
"While Lakeside does not have an "AP curriculum," out of 365 test given in 23 subject areas, 83 percent of the scores were 4s and

If Seattle Public Schools were to abandon AP, as this Franklin teacher seems to be suggesting, they will need a curriculum with the rigor that will allow students to pass AP exams. In SPS what is considered an honors level class differs from school to school.And within a high school they differ from department to department.

Lakeside's tuition is very, very expensive. Class size is very small and that does make a difference.But families pay dearly for this and I don't think that the average Washington State taxpayer is ready to support class size reductions that would truly make a difference in outcomes. And for that matter just what is the right class size?


parent1 said...

No, the multiage schools listed do not do make class assignments based on ability. Unfortunately, it's hard to get the data on schools which are very small, and have small subgroups. But, most of the people here are doing all the hand-wringing because they think differentiated teaching their own, non-poor students.... not because of the performance of disadvantaged.

Montlake and a few others are examples because the others don't even try it, and because they obviously do differentiate (as evidenced by their styles and populations).

parent1 said...

No, the multiage schools listed do not do make class assignments based on ability. Unfortunately, it's hard to get the data on schools which are very small, and have small subgroups. But, most of the people here are doing all the hand-wringing because they think differentiated teaching their own, non-poor students.... not because of the performance of disadvantaged.

Montlake and a few others are examples because the others don't even try it, and because they obviously do differentiate (as evidenced by their styles and populations).