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Monday, January 19, 2009

What Is the Plan for Advanced Learning?

That's the question that should be asked - no shouted - at tomorrow night's hearing at Lowell.

I am learning that when I read this blog I need to (1) not skim and (2) not read when I am tired. Because I surely miss a lot. I missed this in the recent APP thread:

"…that at today's Harium Martin-Morris' coffee hour he revealed that these Design teams (made up of principals, staff and two parent volunteers) will be empowered to make decisions, including having APP classes which do not have to be "contained". meaning, classes could be blended if the design team at that school decides they want it that way. it was quite shocking. as this is different than what Bob Vaughn has been saying/promising. apparently the superind will have the power to approve or disapprove but if she thinks it's a good idea, classes may not stay contained."

(This posted by A Mom on Sunday saying she received it from an APP parent who had attended Harium's Saturday coffee hour.)

UPDATE (pm 1/20): I heard from Dr. Vaughn in reply to an e-mail about this confusion. Here is what he said:

"APP will continue to offer self-contained core academic classes that it has been offering at Lowell and Washington when it expands to sites at Thurgood Marshall and Hamilton International Middle School. The design teams for these sites will work under the direction of central leadership and within well-specified parameters. As Advanced Learning manager, I am personally assigned to all 4 teams representing schools where APP will be offered.

I am tremendously impressed with the efforts our School Directors are making to listen and respond to the public’s concerns. It’s my best guess that Director Martin-Morris’s comments were misunderstood.

Thank you for any help you can offer in clarifying this matter.

Bob Vaughan"

I have known Bob Vaughn for a long time and believe him. That said, I still have some doubts about what is to come. I do know that Dr. Vaughn does believe in APP and Spectrum as they are set up today and I hope that he would champion that as we go forward. I also want to clarify that when I speak of intent, I mean intent from district administrators and not Board members or staff.

UPDATE (am 1/20): I heard from Director Martin-Morris today and this is what he said:
"I was miss understood. That is was not what I thought the questions was."
As you can see, he likely dashed this off in a hurry. I will take him at his word but I hope things will be clarified tonight.

Continued original post:
What? APP not contained? Blended if the school wants it that way? Is this going to be the slow and steady decline of APP and Spectrum - death by a thousand paper cuts? And if Lowell "votes" for contained and Thurgood Marshall "votes" for not self-contained? Well, then APP will become like Spectrum...whatever any school community deems it to be.

I will have to verify this information from Harium and Dr. Vaughn. I'd like to believe that something was misinterpreted but the way things have been going, I would not be surprised if that is the true intent - to place power in the hands of the "design teams" with people handpicked by the district.

23 comments:

Ben said...

We've suspected that something like this was in the works. The district has been hell-bent on splitting APP, in the face of one dishonest rationale after another.

As of right now, it sure seems as though the paranoid among us were right: They want to gut APP.

dan dempsey said...

Pull-eezzee...
This can hardly come as a surprise. From the moment that MG-J first interviewed it was apparent that differentiated instruction would be recommended to meet every challenge.

The goal I guess is to mainstream everyone APP included.

Any chance the SPS will get back to making all those clearly identified tasks in the strategic plan happen?

You know ... the ones that are to have already been completed.

Plan .. Plan .. when does a plan last for more than a moment?

Read the Strategic Plan "Excellence for ALL" from June 2008.

Ruthie said...

Melissa - Do you actually have the ability to verify this rumor? I ask out of genuine ignorance. Like many elementary APP parents, I am feeling pretty desperate to have someone tell me the truth.

If self-contained classrooms are no longer part of the plan, then Bob Vaughan and the APP AC leadership stood on the Lowell stage and misled several hundred parents in November. I'm going to stop short of accusing Dr. Vaughan of lying, because I don't know the man. But the rumor we're hearing sure as hell isn't what he told us.

Would someone with accurate information please have the decency to make it known?

ArchStanton said...

"What Is the Plan for Advanced Learning?" has moved to the top of the list ahead of "why are we splitting APP?" and "how does splitting APP increase access/diversity?"

They have treated the split as a foregone conclusion since that first meeting at Lowell with Dr. Vaughan. The rescheduled Lowell meeting seems to be a mere formality to get through before they can press on with the plan.

Sadly, I hold little hope that our comments will have any influence over the decision to split. I've become more or less resigned that a split will happen and even think that APP could remain vital in the face of a split.

I didn't want to believe others when they fretted that APP would be in danger of being watered-down. Now, I'm beginning to agree. We're seeing signs that they really intend to dismantle APP as we know it.

We asked all the questions about how this would work almost two months ago. Always we have been given answers that really weren't answers: "we don't have the answers yet", "it will be figured out later", and "design teams will take care of it". Over this time, you think they might have come up with some ideas that they would share to let us know they were really working on it.

I think they know the answer.

They know "what the plan for advanced learning is".

And they know we won't like it.

hschinske said...

So far, I've heard on Harium's blog that one person who was at the cafe heard this comment, and another who was there did not hear it. Harium himself hasn't responded yet.

Helen Schinske

Dorothy Neville said...

Somewhere on the order of 30% of all north of ship canal APP eligible kids do not attend APP. (Number from a Lowell parent analysis.) I suspect a number of them end up at Roosevelt. Roosevelt also gets most of the Spectrum kids rising from Eckstein.

So when Bob VaughAn was most willing to support Roosevelt reducing rigor and limiting access to AP classes at the very same time he announced plans to add High School Biology at Washington Middle school (to APP 8th graders only) so that they can access even! more! rigor and AP courses in high school, why should those of us not in APP care what happens in APP?

Both APP and Spectrum have flaws. While there has been change both good and bad for APP in the past 8 years, there doesn't seem to be any marked improvement for Spectrum. Nope, biggest thing seems to be the expanding eligibility to APP which overcrowded Lowell and ignored Spectrum.

The elementary APP split seems like a terrible idea, but the middle school APP split seems like it could be a good thing. Would take some work, but could be very positive. It may very well attract some of those 30% not currently in APP and could make a strong cohort.

I think it's too bad both ideas are being lumped together.

But the elementary split is really a slap. However, not that different a slap than felt by the 175 or so RHS freshmen told last year that they were needed to beef up AP HG, their own educational needs be damned.

If VaughAn or anyone else had taken seriously the need to speak up for Spectrum and the needs of all highly capable students, then we wouldn't be in this mess. Money would much better be spent fixing Spectrum than dealing with an overcrowded Lowell, but it may simply be too late. Speaking for Spectrum is what got both Charlie and Mel active years ago. We should all thank them for the effort. Without such, things would likely be even worse. Too bad they aren't better. It's not because they didn't try.

kellie said...

This needs to be verified. I was also at the meeting and I did not hear that comment. I heard Harium discuss design teams extensively and I also heard him say that APP would be self contained.

Anonymous said...

It was verified and corroborated for me by three separate persons who attended the meeting.

As I understand, an APP dad debated whether the mixed classes could work for APP with Harium for quite awhile. Harium is a former teacher who taught differentiated learning, and is convinced it can work. I understand the debate was friendly, but somewhat tense.

I couldn't decipher from the reports whether Harium was proposing that for APP, suggesting it as one of a myriad of possibilities, or what. Bob Vaughan and many others seem to be proponents of "differentiated teaching" in a big way. So it appears ALO's are the camel's nose under the tent to dilute APP, rather than compliment it or link APP with the Gen Ed kids.

Either way, there does not appear to be support for the self-contained APP model any longer.

hschinske said...

Bob Vaughan's letter to parents did specifically state the following:
"Instructional grouping: Core APP academic classes (language arts, social studies, math, and science) will continue to be self-contained and working 2 years above grade level."

Personally I would have no objection to students being allowed subject acceleration in any manner warranted, regardless of program (e.g., a third-grade student from the regular program who is strong in math working with the third-grade APP class during math). But I can't see any sense at all in making teachers teach *even broader* ranges of abilities than they would in regular classes (which are hard enough to differentiate for, goodness knows).

The whole point about APP is that it's supposed to be advanced enough that separate classes are warranted. It's for kids you would otherwise pretty much have to grade-skip to have them be accommodated properly. Nobody complains that we "isolate" fifth-graders from third-graders and teach them different things. We all know that the kids will get to this curriculum in time either way. It's not any different for third-graders who are ready for fifth-grade curriculum.

Helen Schinske

ParentofThree said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle citizen said...

Keepin' On wrote on a previous thread that "...downtown would like nothing better than to see all APP and Spectrum programs disappear...Dr. Goodloe Johnson is firmly on the side of elminating these programs as she views then as elitist, etc, and that creating excellence for all means lack of rigor for those who need it."

I don't know if downtown sees APP and Spectrum as elitist, or if they are aiming to create "common curriculum" across all grades and schools. If the aim is to have common curriculum (see Math and LA threads), then the preference, I would imagine, would be to get rid of any "oddball" programs that can't be standardized.
There is much talk about differentiation (see previous threads) and whether this is possible or not in classrooms, but it is apparent that the district is "streamlining" everything, and this will likely see the elimination of all things that don't connect to some grand plan.

I would foresee the elimination of APP, Spectrum, and also any Alt school (or Non-Traditional) that can't somehow hook itself into common assessments, GLEs, and packaged curricula as provided by Scholastic Corp. and Steck-Vaughan Co., et al.

While APP students might do well on WASL, so they have the common assessment piece, they do NOT focus on reading standardized textbooks, which are known to be very shallow, due to their desire not to offend the officials of NY, Texas and California who purchase their products.

Anonymous said...

wseadawg said: "As I understand, an APP dad debated whether the mixed classes could work for APP with Harium for quite awhile. Harium is a former teacher who taught differentiated learning, and is convinced it can work. "

Are you sure these folks are not getting their stories mixed up? There was a discussion about blended-GRADE classrooms, but the assumption in that conversation was the classes would still be self-contained APP.

The issue is that as soon as you slice up the program you lose the critical mass required to have single-grade classrooms. It's only very recently that Lowell has had the numbers to avoid split classes. Last year there was only one, and this year there are zero. A split would cause this problem to be even worse than it has been for many years - I believe there would likely be at least one split in most grades at both buildings. This is Really Bad. Unless someone coughs up money to have classrooms of 15 kids, there isn't any way around this if the program is split in half.

For many years, Lowell staff have fought extremely hard every fall to minimize the number of multi-grade classrooms. It's not really feasible to design a program around them in APP because of wildly varying age distribution every year. The solutions include overloading one grade and under-loading an adjacent grade. This ought to be proof enough that it's very, very important to the staff, who are more knowledgeable than anyone else in this city when it comes to this program and teaching APP kids.

Important note! This does NOT mean that multi-grade classrooms are a bad thing! When a program is designed around multi-grades, with looping, etc., there are some benefits to be gained. It does take some special training, and dedication to the concept by the whole school, but it can work well when it's done in a systematic way. Because of its nature, APP can't work that way, and multi-grade classrooms are quite problematic. If anyone wants specific reasons why multi-grade classrooms pose difficulties, I can post a summary, but there is plenty information online.

Anonymous said...

none1111,

I would really like to see your take on why multi-age classrooms can't work in an APP setting, because my two older (and gifted) kids attended Montessori schools for their early education...in multi-grade classrooms (1-3 and 4-6). The majority of the kids in those classes were advanced, some were highly advanced, some, "average", and some actually below-grade learners.

What I saw in these classrooms actually is the reason I can't get all worked up about multi-grade APP classrooms or EVEN the "spectre" as some call it, of gen-ed and APP mixed in the same room.

In my kids' classrooms, kids were able to work AT THEIR LEVEL, and that meant Johnny, who was below grade, worked below grade. Suzie, worked AT grade, and Timmy worked ABOVE grade, progressing as needed. The teachers were able to offer each child what he or she needed AS needed.

In addition to the "3 R's", the school also offered science, social studies AND music and art, along with PE. As much as possible, the kids were taught as a group, with allowances for ability level.

Now, I get that a private Montessori isn't the same as a public school. But these were large classes-25-30, with 1 teacher and 1 aide each, and ALL of the kids made progress.

This was not a Montessori where kids "did what they wanted", a complaint I've heard about such schools, but one where my son was doing high school Algebra in 6th grade, my daughter was reading 4th grade books in 1st, and each had friends of all ability levels.

If APP could be run like that, I just can't see why it wouldn't be possible for everyone to benefit, mixed classrooms included.

hschinske said...

Agibean, that's a good example of the kind of multi-grade classroom that *does* work. Montessori curriculum is also much less grade-based than ours. But if you've got split classes that are set up simply to handle blips in how many kids there are in a grade, classes that change completely from year to year, that's a different matter.

In addition, while the district talks a whole lot about differentiation, I have yet to see them actually supporting any practices that could possibly lead to effective differentiation.

I still remember my daughter's third-grade teacher telling me that she had been forbidden, actually forbidden, to pretest students on math units, because there was only one set of tests available. So because of the incredibly remote possibility that someone might think it worth cheating on a THIRD GRADE TEST, she couldn't compact the curriculum.

In fourth grade, one of my daughters was in a four/five split (this was in the regular program, not APP), and despite the fifth-grade math textbooks sitting right there, and despite both grade-level and out-of-level achievement testing showing she was advanced in math, she could not do math with the fifth-graders. The teacher did send home the occasional 5th-grade worksheet, but typically it was the same sort of problem as the 4th-graders were doing, with an extra digit or so -- four-digit subtraction rather than three-digit, for instance. I think that whole year she learned one math concept that hadn't already been covered in her regular third-grade class.

Helen Schinske

Ben said...

"Unless someone coughs up money to have classrooms of 15 kids, there isn't any way around this if the program is split in half."

And then build new schools. (There are someting like 18 classrooms at Marshall, with supposedly 10 to be set aside for APP.)

Charlie Mas said...

At the School Board meeting on January 21, the Superintendent repeated the assurance that APP classes at Lowell, Thurgood Marshall, Washington and Hamilton will be self-contained.

Of course they also said that APP at Thurgood Marshall will put 236 students into 10 classrooms. They described this as "two classes per grade". Ha ha ha! That's NOT how APP enrollment is structured and it shows a gross ignorance of APP enrollment. To put 236 APP students into 10 classrooms is to guarantee mixed-grade classes.

Is that the pre-determined intent? Is that an intentional part of the APP design going forward?

north seattle mom said...

Because of the capacity issues in the NE, several NE schools that don't have planned mixed grade curriculum have been forced to have mixed grade classrooms.

I don't know other clusters as well, but I have heard from other parents that under-enrolled schools have the same problem. Not enough teachers under WSS so they make mixed grade classrooms to fit the students.

This situation is not unique to the APP program, it is widespread throughout the district. This doesn't make it right or best practices but if mix grade classes are so inappropriate for APP, it would be helpful if APP lobbied against mixed grade for everyone.

old salt said...

A question about self-contained classes.

There are usually classes of kids who take Int 2 at Eckstein, & some who take Int 3. If those kids were sent to Hamilton under the new assignment plan, would they be barred from taking those classes because they are self-contained APP-only classes? Is that how it works at Washington?

anonymous said...

"it would be helpful if APP lobbied against mixed grade for everyone"

But some alternative schools have mixed-grade classrooms by design. Parents like the flexibility and the looping. I would hope those would be allowed to continue.

north seattle mom said...

I wasn't talking about schools that choose mix grades. APP keeps talking about how mixed grades will be forced upon them. I am just stating the obvious that APP is not the only program that get forced mix grades.

There is no doubt that APP is being asked to do a lot of hard things. However, I think there is an important distinction in the hard things that APP is being asked to do and hard things the district asks everyone to do.

Currently, the district asks every school to utilize mixed grade classrooms to accommodate both over and under enrollment issues.

hschinske said...

Math at Washington is self-contained by level, not by program. All students (including those in APP) take a placement test. Students are placed according to the test results and teacher recommendation. *Most* APP students end up in Pre-Integrated for sixth grade and therefore complete Integrated 2 before high school, but a number go either up another level or down one on entering middle school.

In my experience, Washington students sometimes say "She's in APP math" or "He's in Spectrum math," but those terms are not used by the school.

Helen Schinske

old salt said...

Helen,

How is APP a self-contained program if the math classes mix APP & non APP students?

I guess that I do not understand what self-contained means.

Maureen said...

Has anyone proposed splitting elementary APP by grade level? Say 1st-3rd at Lowell and 4th-5th at TM? That would reduce the probability of multi grade classrooms. It would also probably decrease the number of non-APP sibs who would move to those schools, increasing the spaces available for neighborhood kids.

I guess the busing would be problematic. But is that a real issue given that SPS makes money on busing APP kids?