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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Speak Up; She'll Listen

I have now attended two of the meetings for the new Assignment Plan. I am pretty impressed with how Tracy Libros is making this a low-key discussion-based process. Plan to attend one of these meetings between now and January (some are listed in other threads and the later ones will be listed as we get information) or forever hold your peace. Tracy is giving us all the opportunity to say what we think as parents on many topics.

The meeting I attended on Friday at the Northgate Community Center had 13 parents and 3 staff members. There were many scatter maps available for viewing. It's always interesting to read and analyze where students go to school versus where they live. (The maps are to be available online and I'll link them when they do.) There was a bit of confusion about them because they had maps for alternative schools (but left out Nova). Additionally they had maps for some schools only because they served certain populations or had all-city transportation (JSIS and New School but not Beacon Hill or Center School and, oddly, Kimball).

Tracy put out a few facts before us. For example, grandfathering will make the assignment plan rollout time longer. This means we won't really see true patterns for the new plan until all the siblings of current students make it through their schools (unless they don't enroll because transportation is no longer available which may be the case). She also said that 80% of students live close enough to one or two or even three schools they could walk to. I think it's that kind of knowledge that is hard for the district understand with the high transportation costs they have.

She handed out a working draft of a document called "Seattle Public Schools Academic Services Options for Consideration in a New Student Assignement Plan". It was a chart format detailing issues for consideration for elementary, middle and high school overall, then, for all those grade levels, issues for alternative schools, bilingual services, international schools, K-8 Schools, and Special Ed.

Our group talked a lot about alternative schools. Interestingly, I had thought there would be a lot of pushback from alternative school parents about transportation and choice. But these parents seem to see that the transportation costs are way too high and are already trying to think of ways to make their schools accessible even if transportation is cut back. They also seem to see that it is likely that alternative school choice is likely to be whatever is in your region (despite the fact that ALL alternatives are very different - it's not one size fits all).

There was a bit of tension in trying to get info from Tracy and Tracy trying to get ideas from us. For example, I said I couldn't speak to the best way to figure out how to offer Special Ed. Some of it is lack of knowledge of where the programs are currently located, trends in Special Ed (I think I am hearing that there are more autistic students and more types of autistic students in the system) and if parents would be happier if students were grouped in a region thus allowing better services because of the higher number of students OR do parents want services within their cluster to keep their student closer to home at the cost of maybe less service because of fewer students. Tracy didn't know some of the district side.

She, on the other hand, heard from our group on what we see as problems but she was trying to lead us to find solutions. We weren't much help.

This was also an issue with bilingual programs. Parents don't know how many kids there are to serve (and how many for each language) and how the dual language programs work. I was surprised to learn that all three of the language schools (JSIS, Beacon Hill and Concord) are doing things differently from each other. Concord has real immersion while JSIS and Beacon Hill are much less so. Are these schools for children whose first language isn't English? Should they be?

We also talked about high schools. After thinking about it, I realized that under a new assignment plan (where, for high schools, you enroll where you want but students in that area get are first in line) if we have lottery seats, it's a better opportunity than using the distance tiebreaker. Under the distance tie-breaker, if you live say in West Seattle, you have no chance but with a lottery, you have some chance depending on how many students are in the pool. I did point out that Director De Bell had said to me that they had to decide how many lottery seats there would be but it might be 10+%. I know that many parents in the NE would be mightly put out if 170 seats at Roosevelt were lottery seats. Ten percent is much higher than what I had thought (I had thought maybe 25 seats per school). But I don't really know what the number should be. Anyone?

Also, the change to Metro has not been working well for high schools. I can say from my older son's experience that it was frustrating when the bus was late or didn't come and he was late for school. They have glutted routes (and King County Metro has buses on order but when they will come is unknown) and the cost of bus passes has gone up significantly. So the savings the district expected is not really there plus the issues of students trying to access buses.

I'm favoring moving the district more towards 5-6 areas in order to view this discussion. Something like SW, SE, Central, QA/Magnolia, NW, NE. If we narrow it down, then we can see what is already in each area, what needs to be there, and the challenges for each.

Does anyone have input or even a grand plan about how we start with operational guidelines?

55 comments:

SE Mom said...

Wow, 25 choice seats for an entire high school??!! That completely blows my mind.

Say a family lives in SE Seattle and wants to get into Sealth in West Seattle for the IB program.
Basically, there'd be almost no chance of getting into Sealth with only 25 choice seats. I think that the IB program will become quite popular for SE families looking for a high school with academic rigor. There could be many families seeking a seat there especially when the new building is finished in 2010.

My numbers could be off about enrollment trends at Sealth, but the basic point is that there has to be some meat here with the new plan.


Out of 1000 plus students, what would be the point of having choice seats at such a low number?
It would basically make it meaningless.

I'm not sure what the best number would be but it would have to be enough to make a choice seat a real option. 10% of 1200 seats would be 120 choice seats. It actually sounds reasonable to me.

SE Mom said...

Forgot to mention that at the meeting I attended, Tracy Libros seemed quite sure that under the new plan there would be more choice for high school and not less than there is now. Which leads me to think that she must have been using a 10+% figure.

Charlie Mas said...

I would like to see a separate enrollment list for specific high school programs such as IB and CTE programs. Enrollment is already done this way for Spectrum, Special Education, and bilingual education at other schools.

That way, students who want IB at Sealth won't get bumped out of the school by a student who wants to go to Sealth, but doesn't want to participate in the IB program. The same for Biotech at Ballard and any of the other specialized CTE programs at other schools.

This would be good for the programs because they can be sure that they will be full and full of students who want to be there.

It will be good for equity of access because it will provide better access to these specialized programs to students from outside the school reference area. While it's wonderful that Ballard offers the biotech program and that Sealth offers IB, those programs are only available to students who can gain entry to the school. That's not much help to the student living in Rainier Beach who wants to enroll in the Biotech program.

In the event that some schools gain CTE qualification for their music program, then the students who really want that will have a better chance at it if the enrollment for that program is separate from the enrollment for the school in general.

Central Mom said...

Once and for all, the district needs to settle on a nomenclature for the elementary and middle school types. Are K-8s alternative or not (esp TOPS and Salmon Bay and Madrona). Are JSIS and Beacon Hill alternative or not. What about Graham Hill montessori? This will affect enrollment boundaries greatly. The school populations will be largely neighborhood draws if they're not alternative. This would be a change for TOPS and maybe Salmon Bay. On the other hand, JSIS and Beacon Hill will receive wider city enrollment if they're deemed alternative.

I suppose an additional question is whether or not the district withdraws its rule that a student can't be assigned to an "alternative" school as a reference school.

This topic has been brought up a number of times in this blog...and we're all talking to ourselves with nary a bit of input from the district. The lack of sensibility in definition has made me crazy for years. No answer is going to satisfy all populations. But without an answer neither transportation nor assignment boundaries can be addressed with any amount of district credibility.

SolvayGirl said...

I'm very curious about how the school closures will impact the school assignment plan.

If, for example, the District closes Rainier Beach, they will be reducing the number of schools in the southend--even though there are quite a few students living here. With grandfathering, there may not be a capacity issue until a few years down the line, but eventually, there won't be enough seats so students will continue to have to travel far from home for a quality education.

I don't really see how they can work on the assignment plan without also working on a way to try and make the offerings at each school more equitable.

Charlie...right now, students do not have to commit to the IB program when they enroll at Sealth. It is more loosely structured than the one at Ingram. Technically, anyone who wants to can take IB classes, and they can take just one, or a bunch. They'd have to change their structure if they wanted to assign seats as you suggest.

As I noted on another thread on this blog, after meeting with Dr. G-J last week on the topic of why parents in the southend were choosing private schools, I think we may soon see some major changes to the system of Site Based Management. I have no idea how easily the system can be changed, but Dr. G-J did mention that she felt the system was partly responsible for the lack of consistency from school to school.

All of this stuff is very intertwined, so none of these issues can be looked at without considering the others.

SE Mom said...

I do know that the Sealth IB program is structured somewhat differently than at Ingraham. I believe this only the second year for the Sealth IB.

I like Charlie's idea of separate enrollment lists for different programs. Even though a student does not have to commit to IB at Sealth as a 9th grader, I would think that there would be many kids who will go there with the intent of being in the IB program.

I went to the Sealth IB open house last month and they stated that they have no limit to the number of kids at the school that can participate in IB. And the staff are very committed to it being an open program that a student does not have to test into.

However, middle school students are encouraged to prepare for IB by taking as much math as they can and also languages. So, they are looking to enroll students who will be more dedicated to IB as they start high school.

It does make sense to have some choice seats via lottery for Sealth IB.

TechyMom said...

I think I may have figured out why the choice system feels natural to some people and bizarre to others. It works very much like the process of choosing a private school: Finding out about schools by word of mouth, touring a dozen schools to find the perfect fit for your child, competitive admissions, filling out applications and waiting months to hear back, high stakes, high anxiety. This has always been the process of signing up for school for families that consider private schools, even if they eventually choose public school. To these families, the choice system seems natural. Actually, it's a little easier because the there's a single-stop application for several schools, and the selection processes are more transparent and less time-consuming. So for these families, public school choice means that instead of looking at 9 private schools and one public, they're looking at 6 private schools and 4 public. Their overall effort doesn't really change, if anything, it might be a little smaller.

Now, for families whose experience has been that they walk into the neighborhood elementary in August and fill out a form, the choice system seems bizarre and complicated. Their effort and anxiety levels are much, much higher than they expect.

I don't really have an answer here, but I wonder if there's a way that we can keep the first group looking at 4 public schools instead of one, and get them to choose one of those 4, maybe even increase SPS's share of those families, while not requiring the second group to go through that same process.

zb said...

I'd cast myself as a family that looked at private schools largely because I was convinced, by the "choice" system that I would have to tour and consider schools anyway. In other words, I became one of the group that tours 6 private schools and 4 public ones, *because* I thought I'd have to tour the 4 public ones. And I joined that group, even though I think it's bizarre.

After the touring, we chose a private school. Our choice was driven by having to make a choice, and it moved us away from our neighborhood school. Which, furthermore, didn't feel like a neighborhood school because so many families were going through the same "choice" process and picking other schools.

anonymous said...

Yes, ZB is right, choice has made neighborhood schools a thing of the past. We live in the north part of the NE cluster. We have 9 families on our block.

one family goes to View Ridge

one family goes to Sacajewea

two families go to Bryant

one family goes to Laurelhurst

one family goes private

one family is home schooled

two go to Eckstein, and both of them went to AEII/Thornton Creek for elementary.

Of note, most but not all families started out at John Rogers, our reference school because they didn't get into their first choice programs for kindergarten, but were able to transfer to them in upper grades.

At this time not one student on our block goes to our reference or school, John Rogers, though it is only 3 blocks away from us. In addition not one student attends Summit although it is one block away from us.

The good thing is most of the families do view Eckstein as a suitable neighborhood school and most kids meet up for there for 6-8.

old salt said...

Keep in mind the sibling tiebreaker for assignment. If there are 10% of seats reserved for citywide lottery, there will be additional seats held for their siblings.

So for Roosevelt, there are seats currently reserved for bilingual programs & special ed programs. Add seats reserved for lottery, & perhaps CTE music or drama programs. Then also seats for siblings of the children in these programs.

With a 10% lottery set aside, it seems that there may be more that 170 seats with priority over distance tiebreaker.

SolvayGirl said...

I think the sibling tie breaker could be eliminated at the high school level--as long as there is such a huge difference between offerings. Having sibs in an elementary and/or MS school makes sense for ease of transportation, parent involvement, etc. It becomes less essential at the high school level, and in some cases unnecessary or undesirable. One child might really benefit from the Jazz program at Roosevelt while their sibling might want the biotech at Ballard. One might thrive at NOVA while another needs the full experience of Garfield. Seattle's high schools are all so different, it is highly likely that siblings would often not want the same school.

Maureen said...

I agree with solvaygirl about the sibling tiebreaker at the HS level. And, of course, all siblings could attend their reference HS if they so chose (as long as they haven't moved).

For High School lottery seats: 10% may be 160 overall, but that is only 40 per class level. That isn't really very many when you consider at Ballard 30 kids are admitted to Biotech every year. If you put seats aside for their Maritime academy and Finance Academy as well, then most of the Biotech seats would still go to 'local' kids. Also, unless the designated 'open' seats are only for kids outside the reference area, chances are many of those 'open' seats will actually go to kids who could get in to Ballard (but maybe not the Biotech program) under the reference school assignment.

reader said...

With a 10% lottery set aside, it seems that there may be more that 170 seats with priority over distance tiebreaker.

Therein lies the rub. If we are moving to system that claims to have "predictability", there should be no distance tie-breakers. If you live in the "reference area", you're in. Period. Predictable. And without that, then there's no predictability... we're just back to what we have now, with a few tweaks. So which is it?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Great comments. I think I may write something up for Tracy so that it will help guide the decisions.

Maureen, it's unlikely that there would be 40 kids coming in at a junior or senior level. That 140 would probably be mostly freshman. That's where you get the problem.

And there's a good question; if you got in on lottery, should the sibling tiebreaker be part of that? I would guess so but I'm intrigued by the idea of ditching the sibling tiebreaker for high school. My own sons didn't go to the same high schools.

Reader's point - what about predictability is a good one. Would they be able to run the numbers to say that there will be enough seats for all the students in that area for school X plus taking in somewhere between 25 and 100 lottery students? If not, then we lose predictability.

The Board and the district could take a hard line and say, look, what exists today is what you get. We can't create another Montessori program just because there isn't one in your region. We can't create another biotech program just because there isn't another high school that has it other than Ballard.

Predictability or even the hope of a chance to access a program that's only at one school? What do we want?

There was some discussion at the meeting about diversity. I spoke up and said that I thought parents really liked it but if push came to shove, it's not as important as getting your student into a local school. Is that true?

old salt said...

I do not know how the district will be able to right-size the reference areas in a way that makes assignment predictable.

For how many years could you 'predict' your assignment with no changes to the reference area?

There is no way that guaranteed reference areas could have been maintained in NE cluster elementaries this year.

How can the district keep schools overfull, maintain a predictable reference area, & adjust to accommodate changing demographics?

Roy Smith said...

If we are moving to system that claims to have "predictability", there should be no distance tie-breakers. If you live in the "reference area", you're in. Period. Predictable.

Highly regarded schools will always be overcrowded if being in the reference area guarantees admission. For instance, if Roosevelt has a defined reference area, I wouldn't be at all surprised if within a few years, there are 2000 or more high school aged students living in the Roosevelt reference area (and who all want to go there) as families move in order to game the system.

Roy Smith said...

I should amend my comment to say that this overcrowding would not be the case if there was anything like parity in quality between various schools in the district. However, nothing I have seen over the past few years gives me cause to think that this will be the case any time soon.

TechyMom said...

"Predictability or even the hope of a chance to access a program that's only at one school? What do we want?"

Depends who you ask. I went to private school as a kid, so months of searching for the perfect program and months more of nail-biting while you wait to find out if you got in seems normal to me. I don't really care about predicatability or a nearby school. Nearby is nice, but as long as there's bus service and after-care, it's way down the list of criteria. I care about programs, fit, rigor (including real math), languages, and arts. Diversity and a convenient location are both nice to have, but not essential. A predictable assignment to Madrona means I look at more private schools, it doesn't reduce my effort at all. A predictable assignment to TOPS or McGilvra, well, that might help.

But, honestly, I'd probably still look at both public and private. One of the reasons I chose to live in seattle instead of on the east side was the availability of a interesting, differnt, quirky, alternative programs that would allow me to have a good fit for my child *and* stay in public school.

Now, I know lots of other people feel very differently about this issue. So, what do "we" want? We want both. We do not speak with one voice.

Maureen said...

melissa said "it's unlikely that there would be 40 kids coming in at a junior or senior level. That 140 would probably be mostly freshman. That's where you get the problem." I'm confused, is the proposal to have 10% of the school's population set aside every year (about 160)or 10% of the open seats every year (maybe 50--mostly freshmen). The first would mean (after 4 years) 40% of the whole population would be from outside the ref area, the second that 10% of the whole population at any given time would be from outside the ref area.

old salt said... "I do not know how the district will be able to right-size the reference areas in a way that makes assignment predictable." Something else will have to be unpredictable--I think it will probably be a combination of class size and the use of portables. I've brought this up with Tracy Libros before and she says that this happens all the time even now. No one seems to want to admit that it will be worse under the new plan (push on a balloon...).

And roy smith, yes people will move and forego private school and LIE if their address guarantees access to a great program. So I hope that is taken into account when the reference areas are defined.

reader said...

So how could you have predictability AND right-sized reference areas? Yes, over-crowding, portables, and high class size. Stuff 'em all in if they want to come, and they live in the reference area. Stuff in whatever percentage is saved for outside cluster students too. At some point, the size and the inconveniences associated with size are self-limiting. People WILL at some point, find an over-crowded (or right-sized) Roosevelt unattractive.... and select another school. The problem will solve itself.

Charlie Mas said...

I'm concerned that the right-sizing of aggregate school capacity and individual reference areas will cement programs into place.

The district would never be able to create a program or move a program if no school has room for a new program. That flexibility will be gone after the district drains all of the excess capacity out of the system and right-sizes all of the reference areas.

Some excess capacity is a good thing as it allows the District and the schools to innovate and be flexible.

Isabel D'Ambrosia said...

Eeeew ick. Why is it that if you live in West Seattle, your only hope for getting a quality high school education is to be the lucky winner of one of the lottery seats at Roosevelt? Why are students in West Seattle sitting around pinning their hopes on winning this kind of lottery?

A lottery for seats at the "good" high schools in order to escape your "bad" neighborhood high school is just -- icky. It only entrenches the idea that certain high schools are "good" and certain high schools are "bad".

If high schools in the south end are failing, they should be closed. Why do we feel like busing kids north is the only way to offer an equitable education to high school students who live in the south?

I'll bet Trish Dziko's TAF would come back to set up a high school in the south end if we offered. And I'll bet some motivated arts organization could set up a great performing arts HS at Rainier Beach.

Let's get kids into decent programs close to their home instead of pinning their hopes on a wish to win some kind of "good school" lottery.

Dorothy Neville said...

I suspect someone is having a little arithmetic confusion.

If there are 400 freshman, then 10% lottery means there would be 40 set-aside seats for lottery. Then, after 4 years there would be 160 lottery students, or 10% of the school.

Questions remain. If the lottery seats are for a particular program, what happens if the student drops out of the program? Or flunks out of program? And what about sibling preference for lottery? And if any programs with auditions, (ie music) go CTE, how does that work?

I agree that sibling preference ought to disappear completely in high school. With guaranteed seat at a predictable school, the lottery would be fairest if everyone gets an equal chance. Not if siblings can ride coattails to a different school.

anonymous said...

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if within a few years, there are 2000 or more high school aged students living in the Roosevelt reference area (and who all want to go there) as families move in order to game the system."

First of all Roy, I would hardly call moving to a neighborhood with good schools "gaming the system". Families have always done this. My family always made sure that we had access to great schools whenever we moved. It was their top priority - I would hardly call that gaming the system. And as for schools not being able to accomodate all kids in the reference area of Roosevelt or other popular schools, I would suggest they consult with districts across the country and find out how they do it. It's common practice. In fact they could just consult with our neighbor district, Shoreline. They do a fabulous job of it.

Families wanting access to good schools is not gaming the system. I resent people always putting such a negative spin on families that want a good school for their children.

zb said...

So, hands down, I want predictability in assignment from my public schools. It was lack of predictability that drove me to search out private schools.

And yes, predictability means that there will be overcrowding. The reference areas should not be drawn so that there is overcrowding when they're drawn. But, eventually demographic shifts will lag the drawing of the reference areas, and over-crowding will result until they're readjusted.

Drawing reference areas would also prevent the school district from pretending that students (most notably in Queen Anne) have access to a school, when they don't. Or that folks in Eastlake/Roanoke have a school when they don't.

(and yes, many many school districts have guaranteed assignments that go with a residential location).

Melissa Westbrook said...

I hope no one is serious about overcrowding. I just don't know how any school can handle that on a long-term basis. We can't stuff 2000 students into Roosevelt. I would think the staff would revolt and even just moving around the school, in the halls, would be difficult. But, the area around Roosevelt is going to get more dense. Roosevelt will be right next to a light rail station in 10 years (maybe less) and there are condos and townhomes going up.

Again, we need some real long-term thinking about what will happen when density comes.

reader said...

My high school had almost 3,000 students. It was no big deal. We had lots and lots of portables. People have already commented that those who want a smaller environment can choose Hale. Roosevelt at 2000 will make Hale all the more attractive.

Charlie Mas said...

Yogi Berra once said of a nightclub "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded." That may have been Yogi's experience. Then again, Yogi said that he didn't really say all the things he said.

My observation has been that overcrowding does not reduce overcrowding. It might make sense in theory, but is it really effective in practice?

To what extent has the overcrowding at Eckstein caused people to choose Hamilton? Not enough to relieve the overcrowding at Eckstein nor enough to fill even 2/3 of Hamilton.

To what extent have overcrowded freeways caused people to choose the bus? Not so much. More likely it just makes them choose to start their commute earlier in the morning.

Before and after baseball games, the Seattle police close some streets around Safeco Field because - and I'm not making this up - if the streets were open, too many people would want to drive on them.

We have all seen well-worn paths that run diagonally across a square of lawn that show where people walked - instead of walking on the cement paths that run along the sides of the lawn. Should the people walk where the paths are, or should the institution put the paths where the people walk?

The more I think about it, the more I think that if Hale wants to be a school of 800, then it should be in a building that size - such as Jane Addams, and if Eckstein is going to be a school of 1,100, then it should be in a building that size - such as Hale.

Melissa Westbrook said...

No big deal? Roosevelt would not be the same school at 2,000. The Board is not going to ever approve portables unless we have the biggest baby boom ever. And we would never overstuff one school on the premise it might make another school more attractive. As Charlie points out, the overcrowding at Eckstein has not made Hamilton more popular. Maybe a new building will.

reader said...

Well, you can't choose to go to school at a different time, like you can choose to drive at a different time. At least not currently... but it isn't a bad idea. They do that in other countries like Costa Rica to save money. Some kids go 6am to noon... others go noon to 6pm. And no, there's nothing comparable to alternate routes. The fact that Eckstein and Roosevelt are still popular, simply means the problem isn't that bad. That is the perceived better education, still out weighs over-crowding. And no, a nice new building will not make an unpopular school popular. If it did, people would be flocking to Cleveland.

anonymous said...

Look, you have to have a cut off. If Roosevelt can hold 1700 kids, then that's what they can hold. Period. They should not be expected to continue to add children because the school is popular. It is a detriment to the program and directly affects the quality of learning for the students.

What would happen if we applied this logic to other things in life? What if, instead of capping the basketball team at 10 players, the coach took all 50 players that tried out? It would be detrimental to the kids, as they would have far less play time right? It would be a burden on the coach to train 50 kids instead of 10 right? What if a company that needed to fill one position hired all 6 qualified applicants? Their would be a multitude of problems....would they have space for 6 new hires, could they afford to pay 6 new hires, would they have to add extra supervisory staff to manage all 6 new hires?

I say cap the enrollment at Roosevelt knowing that my children have no chance of getting in even though we live less than 3 miles from the school. My child will go to Hale next year, and though different, we think their program is just as solid as Roosevelt. One must concede however, that Hale is a far less popular choice for families than Roosevelt is.

If the district were really listening to what parents want they would make a Roosevelt II and III. Perhaps they could move the Hale program intact to a right sized building, and make the Hale building into Roosevelt II. Then Roosevelt could go back to being a 1550 kids school and not have the pressure to grow into a 3000 kid school. And RBHS could be transformed into Roosevelt III complete with rigorous curriculum, expanded AP, strong band and drama, allowing the south end to have at least one strong, college prep option.

Despite all of the data that shows Roosevelt and Garfield are the two highest performing schools in the district, and parent satisfaction is among the highest in the district as is evident by the long wait lists, the district is not stepping up to the plate and replicating the programs. Giving the people what they want.

Stuffing kids into a Roosevelt and Garfield at the detriment of their programs is certainly not the answer. Strengthening existing schools, and adding Roosevelt like programs around the district is the only reasonable solution.

Roy Smith said...

I should have chosen different wording - it is true that families that move to be in a particular school district or in a particular school's reference area aren't gaming the system, they are simply doing what is best for their children. So kudos to them, but nonetheless, by moving, they do contribute to the overcrowding problem. As an aside, parents who engage in various types of fraud and lieing to get access (which as maureen points out, does happen), are abusing the system, and if we have guaranteed reference areas, we can probably expect to see more of that behavior, as well.

As far as consulting with other districts about how they avoid this sort of problem, I can answer that without consulting anybody: they make all the schools reasonably comparable in attractiveness. Shoreline has two high schools that are broadly comparable in quality, so there is little incentive to move to get into the other high school. If Shoreline had a high school that was comparable to Roosevelt, and one that was comparable to Rainier Beach, they wouldn't be able to manage the overcrowding problem any better than Seattle does.

Thus, the real answer is to increase the attractiveness of other high schools, so that families will want to send their students to them. And, if we move to a system of guaranteed reference areas, plan on severe overcrowding in some of the most popular schools, until (if ever) the quality disparities are significantly reduced.

Pollyanna, if we accept the idea that enrollment must be capped at some level, then we will ensure that we do not have guaranteed reference areas anytime soon. We can get guaranteed reference areas (and thus predictability of assignment), or we can get relief from overcrowding, but at this point in time in this district, getting both is not an option. Furthermore, it won't be an option until such time as most families in all parts of the district will agree that the statement "my neighborhood school provides an adequate education for our children" is true.

I won't venture an opinion on whether predictability of assignment or relief from overcrowding should have a higher priority (largely because I don't really have one); my intention is to point out that those two values are directly in conflict with each other at this juncture.

And while I'm posting, I agree with the posters above that the sibling tie-breaker needs to be got rid of for high schools.

Maureen said...

pollyanna said "Look, you have to have a cut off."

But that's what I have not heard from the District. If people are guaranteed a spot at a given school, then some years there will be too many kids and some years there will be too few. Creating rigid enrollment boundaries will make this inevitable. The current system allows us to shift kids around to where there are seats. Under the proposed new assignment system we will sacrifice this flexibility. period.

The only out I can see is to co-house programs with popular schools and move the programs in and out to where ever there is room. Anyone interested in kids enrolled in special ed should keep this in mind. Of course, this happens even now, but I expect it will be worse under the proposed assignment plan.

reader said...

"The only out I can see is to co-house programs with popular schools and move the programs in and out to where ever there is room. Anyone interested in kids enrolled in special ed should keep this in mind. Of course, this happens even now, but I expect it will be worse under the proposed assignment plan."

Pollyanna, programs = chilren, with friends, ties to the community, and the same needs for continuity of placement as your child, my child, anyone's child. The recognition of continuity of placement as a value in the growth of our children in schools is a basis of the new student assignment framework. The stakes are even higher for children who have disabilities. The district already moves these children around like yesterday's recycling against all clinical and educational good practice. Remember, "programs" touch the lives of little human beings trying to connect with their peers and teachers and grow.

Dorothy Neville said...

Reader:

"Pollyanna, programs = chilren, with friends, ties to the community, and the same needs for continuity of placement as your child, my child, anyone's child."

First, it was Maureen, not Pollyana who made the program moving conjecture. Second, I know Maureen and I doubt she likes this possible scenario, it is mostly musing, brainstorming on the consequences, intended and unintended, of guaranteed reference areas and population shifts.

These are good questions. We live 1.85 miles from RHS and my son is a student. On my block, there are no other middle or high school aged children. There are, however, 11 kids preschool to grade 1. Where will they go to High School? As Mel pointed out, the land around RHS is all slated for condos and townhomes. Lots of them. The reference area for RHS will have to shrink as density goes up.

anonymous said...

"As an aside, parents who engage in various types of fraud and lieing to get access (which as maureen points out, does happen), are abusing the system, and if we have guaranteed reference areas, we can probably expect to see more of that behavior, as well."

Fraud is unacceptable on all levels and shouldn't be tolerated. That's a given and I think we can all agree on that. But why would there be more fraud with the new assignment plan because of guaranteed access in certain geographic areas? As the assignment plan stands today distance is the tie breaker. So currently you could use a fraudulent address very close to Roosevelt and be guaranteed in. Many people do this currently, and I even heard that Roosevelt had a committee devoted to checking out suspicious addresses. So, while fraud may remain as it is now, I don't think the proposed changes to the assignment plan will increase fraud.

old salt said...

I have not heard Tracy say for how long the reference area predictability is guaranteed. 3years, 5 years, 10 years....

anonymous said...

I would imagine that if the district is going to guarantee assignment to neighborhood schools they will have to re-draw the boundaries to make sure that they are right sized. When Roosevelt plans it's capacity, one would hope that they accept fewer students than the building can actually hold, leaving some wiggle room for years where there will be more students, and for families that move into the reference area mid year. If the reference area eventually grows to big, then it will have to be redrawn, but that issue can be dealt with when it happens.

Maureen said...

two things: first, dorothy is right in thinking I in no way advocate moving programs around like pawns. I suppose I should have written: "The only out I can see the District has is to..."

Second, maybe polyanna is right and fraud won't increase, but I'm afraid that an increase in rigidity will lead more people to act dishonestly. I get the feeling that knowing for sure that if they lived on the other side of a given street they would definitely have access to a good school will drive more people to fudge their address. In particular, during the first few years, some people will feel like 'their' school has been taken away from them, so they have a right to cheat. (We live about 1.85 miles WEST of Roosevelt-my 9th grader goes there- I'm willing to bet money that my 5th grader will not have access to that school--though someone near Sandpoint may.) In theory it should actually be easier to catch cheaters if the boundaries are rigid from year to year (especially if the sibling preference is dropped), so maybe I'll be proven wrong.

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

No one is saying the reference areas should be drawn to overcrowd the schools. But, I am arguing for stable reference areas over the course of 5-10 years, drawn with demographic projections in mind. Stable could even include changing boundaries over those years, as long as the boundaries were made clear -- i.e. boundaries that changed as a function of year.

Is this a perfect solution? Of course not, because it will result in overcrowding on occasion, when the predictions were wrong. But, the current situation means that someone who moves in to a neighborhood can end up at a school on the other side of Seattle, and that's clearly an imperfect solution as well.

And we know that many of these schools were used to greater capacities than those people currently find unbearable. People cope. I see echoes of the planning that airlines go to when they figure that it's better to delay an entire plane for 24 hours, than to spread the delay across multiple groups of people, because it's better to have 200 people really mad, than to have 1000 people inconvenienced. So, it's better to have 200 kids shipped across the city than to have 1000 have to deal with a more crowded school?

Charlie Mas said...

This is a perfect example of why we should not eliminate ALL of the excess capacity from the system. We need some for flexibility and for growth. The system should be designed with about 5-10% excess capacity to respond to exactly the sort of issues discussed here.

The problem we have is not the excess capacity, but the concentration of excess capacity.

Roy Smith said...

Quoting zb: But, I am arguing for stable reference areas over the course of 5-10 years, drawn with demographic projections in mind.

The problem is that the demographics will be directly impacted by the presence, shape, and rigidity of the reference areas. For instance, if the district decides to guarantee the Roosevelt reference area for 10 years, then within 5 years (and I would guess within 2 years), there will be more high schoolers living in that area (even assuming no fraud) than that school can possibly hold. If there is no reference area (or no guarantee it will remain the same from year to year), then the current demographic projections might be relatively close.

Whatever is done, the drive of families to provide the best (or even adequate) education for their children will overwhelm efforts to control overcrowding, at least until there isn't a huge incentive to flee from certain schools to other schools. Overcrowding at Roosevelt isn't going to be solved until more families are happy with sending students to other high schools.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, there is a solution to overcrowding and it's called not doing it. There are several schools (Roosevelt being one) that are quietly drawing back their numbers. I think the district supports this (but maybe that would change with the assignment plan). If schools are not forced to overenroll, then families will have to choose another school. If there are too many students in one area for one high school, that's when I'd see overcrowding but not letting in students just to make people happy. We did that at Eckstein and look at their size.

Charlie Mas said...

zb has said it exactly:
"Overcrowding at Roosevelt isn't going to be solved until more families are happy with sending students to other high schools."

So what can the District do - if anything - to make other schools more attractive to families?

Or should the district simply not bother with that? Roosevelt admits students until it is full, then enrollment closes. Everyone who doesn't get their kid into the school gets a different assignment. Are they disappointed? Too freakin' bad. Go cry to your momma because we don't care. Whatever school you get is good enough for your kid.

Roy Smith said...

Well, there is a solution to overcrowding and it's called not doing it.

Only an option as long as there is not a way geographically to get guaranteed enrollment. Many families in Seattle are clamoring for exactly that - some sort of guaranteed enrollment based on geographical reference areas. So again, we have to make the decision (which thus far has not been made) about which is valued more: predictability of assignment based on geography, or relief of overcrowding at popular schools. We can't, at this time in this district, get both.

So what can the District do - if anything - to make other schools more attractive to families?

Charlie, coming from you, I hope this is a rhetorical question. There is lots that the District can do. Maybe a more pointed question is "What will the District actually do - if anything - to make other schools other schools more attractive to families?"

anonymous said...

Roy, sure there is a way to get both guaranteed assignment, and not over crowd a school. When you draw the boundaries make sure that the geographic area is right sized. In other words the boundary is small enough so that all kids can be accommodated at Roosevelt without over crowding the school. It's pretty simple.

If, eventually, people move into the new boundary so they have access to Roosevelt and the school can not accomodate all students, then you re-draw the boundaries and make them even smaller. Grandfather in the kids who are already enrolled, and have the new boundaries affect only incoming students.

It seems fairly simple from my perspective.

And forget about fraud. You can't base an entire assignment plan around the assumption of fraud or dishonesty. If there is evident fraud, then that will have to be addressed separate from the assignment plan, and it sounds like Roosevelt is already doing just that.

anonymous said...

Of course, guaranteed assignment will exasperate the need to improve the less popular schools. I hope that with MGJ at the helm, some positive, and swift action will be taken. More has been accomplished under her short watch than has been done in the entire time my children have been in this district (Olschefski and Manhas regimes). The SE initiative, though not working well, was an attempt to improve school quality in SE, something no other supt has even approached. I think we will also see MGJ standardize school offerings such as AP, music, art, 3 years of science in middle school, etc, so all schools will have the same baseline classes.

MGJ inherited a mess. A disaster. Crumbling, limping, poor performing schools in the south end, entire regions with no school access (QA), crowding in the north end. She has a tough job ahead of her, but I feel like she is making progress, and moving forward. I have faith that there will be improvement, though it will take years maybe decades to complete.

Roy Smith said...

adhoc wrote: Roy, sure there is a way to get both guaranteed assignment, and not over crowd a school. When you draw the boundaries make sure that the geographic area is right sized. In other words the boundary is small enough so that all kids can be accommodated at Roosevelt without over crowding the school. It's pretty simple.

If, eventually, people move into the new boundary so they have access to Roosevelt and the school can not accomodate all students, then you re-draw the boundaries and make them even smaller. Grandfather in the kids who are already enrolled, and have the new boundaries affect only incoming students.


I think you underestimate the impact of family mobility, and private school families who will move into public schools, if enrollment into the school of their choice is guaranteed by their address.

Regarding mobility, if there are high school reference areas, a huge proportion of families who rent have the ability to get into any reasonably conceivable high school reference area almost at will, and it wouldn't surprise me if many would. (I myself would, for starters, if I had an 8th grader and was looking at such a situation).

And a lot of families have gone private specifically because they could not get into their desired public school. If the reference areas guarantee access, some portion of them will probably take advantage of that access.

Its worth remembering that small demographic shifts, taken on a citywide basis, can make a huge impact on individual schools. For instance, there are about 13,000 high schools students in SPS that do not attend Roosevelt High School. If 3% of those high school students' families move in order to take advantage of guaranteed access based on a defined reference area, then Roosevelt has to accomodate almost 400 additional students. Since the average family moves once every few years, this kind of shift is not at all inconceivable.

If you redraw the reference areas at a pace fast enough to accomodate the demographic changes those reference areas area likely to inspire, then that destroys the predictability that supporters of reference areas want in the first place. We might as well keep the distance tie-breaker if we go that route. Also, we set ourselves up for bruising political battles between neighborhoods on a regular, perhaps annual, basis (I can already picture the fights between Laurelhurst, Wedgewood, and Green Lake as the district tries to figure out who is going to be excluded from Roosevelt as the high school population of the area surges).

Again, I'm pretty convinced that the only stable long-term answer is to figure out how to bring all the schools up to reasonably equitable level of performance. Anything else means that we will have unpredictable and uneven access, overcrowding of popular schools, or both.

anonymous said...

If the reference area has to be tiny, say 1/4 mile around the school, then so be it. There is only so much housing available for people to move to, and lets not forget it's a huge school that accommodates over 1700 students. It can be done. I'm not saying it's the best thing. I'm not advocating for it. I agree that all schools need to be good schools. I'm just saying that predictability can happen without over crowding a school.

And yes of course the neighborhoods that aren't in the reference area are not going to like it. No neighborhood will. That is unavoidable.

Charlie Mas said...

Roy is, of course, correct.

"Again, I'm pretty convinced that the only stable long-term answer is to figure out how to bring all the schools up to reasonably equitable level of performance. Anything else means that we will have unpredictable and uneven access, overcrowding of popular schools, or both."

Of course, this is a much greater challenge than right-sizing a reference area.

The way to bring the high schools up to a reasonably equitable level of performance is to first bring the middle schools up to a reasonably equitable level of performance. High schools cannot perform well if the students who come to them are not ready and able to do ninth grade work.

The way to bring the middle schools up to a reasonably equitable level of performance is to first bring the elementary schools up to a reasonably equitable level of performance. Middle schools cannot perform well if the students who come to them are not ready and able to do sixth grade work.

The way to bring the elementary schools up to a reasonably equitable level of performance is to set and maintain high academic expectations for all students and to give the students the support they need to reach those expectations. This means that we do not lower the bar. No social promotion. Instead, we make quick, early and effective interventions when any student's performance becomes at risk of falling below grade level.

Do that in the elementary and middle schools for ten years and your high schools will be great.

Finally, the District is taking the first baby steps towards this solution.

Now, what are we going to do as a short-term fix while we're waiting for the long-term fix to take effect?

AutismMom said...

Oh no. Not the "fail 'em if they can't make the grade" dead horse. Please. Are we supposed to repeat first grade 21 times... instead of being moved on? If somebody didn't "get" first grade... will doing it again help? Hint: answer = no. Do you really want kids of huge age ranges in your child's class? Would you like a 15 yo in a second grade? I don't think so.

No, everyone is going to present differently. I can tell you from a disabilities stand-point, there are going to be students who don't "meet expectations" who WILL be moved up. Teachers WILL need to adjust their teaching in YOUR general education classroom to reach those students. And in the meantime, they will be better able to meet all children if they have this flexibility.

And since it is obvious, and legally required, that students with disabilities be accommodated in general education, even if they haven't met grade level expectations... isn't it reasonable to expect teachers to do this for students without disabilities too? The alternative will be.... students not meeting grade level will be categorized as disabled, and promoted anyway. So, what's the advantage?

I can tell you from experience, this already happens. There's a kid (12 yo) sitting with kindergarteners at my school. And, it's pretty ridiculous. Why would you want more of that?

anonymous said...

Dang, Autism mom, why the hostility?
You sound very very angry. Of course, there will be kids with disabilities that do not meet standard. That is not at all what the poster above was talking about. Not meeting standards due to a disability is very different than a child with no disability, that can't meet standards. Sure kids present differently, but all should fall within a set guideline of standards. If they don't they should not be promoted. The poster above did not at all imply that they should just keep holding kids back until they "get it". What he said was that early and swift intervention should happen right away to bring these kids up to standard. With true and effective intervention most kids will be able to meet standard. If they can't, should they really move up Wouldn't that be unfair to them to be in a classroom where they really can't succeed? And how far do you think a teacher should be flexible. If she has a 9th grade class with one student reading at a 2nd grade level, should she really be expected to tailor her class to meet his needs? Now what if she has a kid at 2nd grade level, a few at 3rd grade level, one at 4th grade level, and on and on. How would she be expected to accomodate that kind of range. We let the one room classroom go back in the 1800s

Charlie Mas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlie Mas said...

I have been told, more than once, that repeating grades does not help students. I can also report that promoting them does not work. There has to be a third option.

The third option is to divert the students who are not working at grade level into a TEMPORARY program that is intensive, extended, and enriched, accelerate their learning to bring them up to grade level, and then RETURN them to the general education classroom.

The program will be Intensive because it will have low student:teacher ratios. It will also be intensive because the teaching will be accelerated. Students who are behind need to be accelerated so they can catch up with their peers.

The program will be Extended in a number of ways. Extended time on task - 90 minutes spent on each core subject: reading, writing, math, and science. An extended day starting early and finishing late. An extended week including Saturday school. And an extended year starting in August before the general education classes and finishing in June or July after them.

Finally, it will have to be Enriched with lots of field trips, with art, music, and performance. This is, in part, to make it clear that the students are NOT being punished. What kind of punishment includes at least one field trip a week? Studies show that enriching experiences - trips to the zoo, the aquarium, museums, libraries, performances, etc. - are a significant contributing factor to the academic achievement gap. If we are to close that gap we need to provide those enriching experiences.

The extended day is, in part, to include time in the afternoon for the art and the field trips. It is also to provide time for students to do their homework in a structured environment and gain some study skills.

When the students are returned to their general education classroom they will not only be ready and able to do the work, they will no longer be at the bottom of their class. Other students and the school community will see that kids come out of the diversion program as some of the top achievers in their class so the program does not get a reputation as a place for dumb kids or bad students.

The important thing, however, is that the students DO go back to a general education class. The diversion program should be strictly a temporary assignment.

Will this be expensive? You bet it will! But it will be well worth it. If students received early and effective intervention when they fell behind, we would have, over time, fewer students falling behind. More than that, we would have many many more students who have a positive experience at school and truly become lifelong learners who value education.

So no, autismmom, I'm not interested in holding students back; I'm interested in launching them forward. But no one who can't swim in an 8 foot pool will be helped by getting dumped into a 10 foot pool.

We have Advanced Learning programs for students who are working beyond Standards. Where is the program to support students who are working below Standards?

As for students with disabilities, they have IEPs which set their individual academic goals. They would only get the intervention if they didn't meet the goals of their IEP, not the state Standards. I fully support inclusive classrooms - if they are done right.