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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Open Thread (We Hadn't Had One in Awhile)

What's on your mind?

26 comments:

Dorothy Neville said...

Back on track from the threadjack. What does all this strategic plan information mean for us? It's maddening, isn't it? That they just seem to keep adding topics to the list but don't have anything of substance done? As H2Ogirl said, what on earth are they talking about with the SouthEast Initiative not started? Have they no shame?
-----
On rereading the post on Harium's site on the Assignment plan, I see that the board instructed staff to do the policies first and then the maps. And they did that at a work session. Are those sessions recorded? Was anyone there? I honestly cannot see the logic of such a decision and would like to understand if they had any rational discussion on their reasons.

anonymous said...

Has anyone heard anything more from the Jane Addams design team? Any new information? Progress?

zb said...

I think Seattle's obsession with process is a recipe for disaster during a crisis. It's true for running the schools, for budgeting state wide, for making decisions. The bottom line is that there's no way that attention to process ("recorded work sessions") is going to circumvent elected/appointed officials who you basically don't trust. My solution is to do my best to pick people I think will do a decent job and let them do it. None of this other stuff will fix anything without that bottom line. And, during a crisis, having people spend time on recording their work sessions will actually make it harder to get anything done.

(And, I think that the policies, then assignment plans is a very wise decision, both on ethical grounds and on political grounds).

Dorothy Neville said...

"(And, I think that the policies, then assignment plans is a very wise decision, both on ethical grounds and on political grounds)."

Hmm. I don't see open/recorded meetings in the same way as obsession with process. I do want to vote for people who I trust will do a good job, but I'd like to watch them do that job (up to a point) so I can know whether or not I should re-elect them.

However, the above point about ethics and politics. Hmm. Food for thought. I hadn't thought about how maps could lead to favoritism or something else not quite ethical. I can see that might be what you are getting at? That adds a complication. But I still don't see how one can have an idea of relative effectiveness of various policies, the unintended side effects of policies without at least sketching out some maps and analyzing them. It's a challenge. But, as Charlie said, it's not that much further along than discussions a year or more ago. That also seems puzzling. And disappointing.

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, my goal, when my son entered school, was to be a good parent and support his education and his school. I had no intention of putting a lot of attention into the district. But slowly, trying to find out about a program (Spectrum)and not being able to understand it clearly led me to today.

I want nothing more - I think that mostly true of all of us - than to do my duty as a voter and vote in capable, wise people and let them govern (with input, of course). I would love it. But, as far as the district goes, well, you can do that but no fair being surprised at anything they do. This is not to say there aren't capable people in the district - there are many. However, they do not act in the most transparent and understandable manner in making their decisions. That's what needs to happen if you want people to back off.

And by the way, what's the crisis? If you are talking about the budget, this is nothing new and not unexpected.

You don't even have to record the work sessions but how about a record of this public meeting? Minutes maybe? So if you can't attend work sessions and you are trying to follow the reasoning of a particular policy, too bad? I don't accept that reasoning.

dan dempsey said...

In regard to the high school math adoption: How much is the district budgeting for lawsuits?

Consider coming end of course assessments in Algebra and Geometry from the state. Soon will be coming: My kid did not graduate because the SPS chose a book that was rated as mathematically unsound and unacceptable by the state. The SPS has steadfastly refused to offer the effective interventions mandated in D44.00 & D45.00 instead socially promoting my unskilled child to grade 9 where they adopted a program with nothing below Algebra I. Please send my check for the $2 million to PO Box ___ Seattle WA.

Unknown said...

This is interesting: http://westseattleblog.com/blog/?p=15581

SolvayGirl said...

With today's technology, "recording work sessions" should take little to no effort. I try to vote for people who will represent me and make policy I agree with, but I certainly want to be informed as to how and why they make the decisions they do.

WV: oustr _ what we want of the current board?

rugles said...

What's up with Patty Murray?

One of ten democrats who joined all 41 Rebublicans to vote last week in favor of cutting estate taxes for the wealthiest families in America.

Thats an estimated 91 billion over ten years that might have been used for ____________.

reader said...

As to speculation of a great private school exodus due to the great recession... my child's private school (not a big name, fancy, or exclusive) announced a record admission season. In fact, they were only able to accept 12% of the applicants.... and all have accepted, meaning the waiting list is very long and not moving.

anonymous said...

Yes, my neighbor who has a very bright, spectrum qualified child, applied to 3 private schools, and only got into 1. Of the two that they did not get accepted into, one placed her # 32 on their waitlist and the other said turned them down outright and said their waitlist was full.

owlhouse said...

Nova. And "capacity management" over all. Looks like we'll have 2 days to pack our building, won't have access to Meany until September and the district will move curriculum material only (books). So- art, furniture, greenhouse, and other assorted Nova materials will need to be out of the building immediately following the end of the year- and stored elsewhere for the summer. (Details are a few weeks old, could shift, but I doubt it.) I'd imagine this is similar for other impacted schools? I've heard rumors that Summit and Cooper are already being asked to pack their libraries?

Add to that the near daily encounters with people asking, "isn't NOVA closing?".

Watching the community work together in spite of such odds is inspiring. If not a painful for the lost potential.

Meanwhile, Garfield is up for another 1.5 million for construction fixes? But there was no way to find $500,000 for windows at Mann and we're not sure Meany will have HS science labs for Nova and SBOC.

Feeling really disempowered and discouraged at the moment. Good thing the sun is starting to shine.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Owlhouse, yes, I have to wonder why they continue to fix up Montlake, allegedly one of the worst buildings. I get it may need it but isn't that just spending good money after a bad building?

Meany may not have the labs but Secondary BOC comes with $11M in BEX money taken for Garfield. If that money and those labs don't materialize, go to the Board and demand it. The district PROMISED it would be there for them out of BTA money. (Although I doubt all the $11M will come, there should be enough spent for decent labs.)

dan dempsey said...

Think Chris Jackins said at the board meeting that Garfield is now $30 million over budget. Maybe Meany will get an alcohol burner and a test tube for a desktop lab.

Charlie Mas said...

We really do need to explore and discuss the District's follow-through on the moves and the transition plans, such as the SBOC/NOVA move to Meany. Commitments were made and good faith was assured, but the effort has disappointed.

seattle citizen said...

The John Marshall building had some relatively new, relatively good science labs. While I imagine some of the pieces went elsewhere, there still might be counters, emergency shower, and other stuff over there. Maybe somebody could ask the district to check, and swtich it into the Meany building...

Central Mom said...

Has anyone read today's PI story on a mom suing the Highline School District because of a shooting fatality? Whether or not the claim is valid, the reality of the lawsuit is at hand.
http://www.seattlepi.com/
local/404972_shooting09.html

The story made me think about Melissa's recent post/request to the district re: cameras in high school. District certainly could use it in its defense if (horrible thought) a similar tragedy and ensuing lawsuit happened here.

Dorothy Neville said...

The April 8 School Board meeting discussions of the HS math adoption had some very interesting moments.

Public testimony. All the "just say no" folks came first, then the "please say yes" folks. Is that common practice or was that a coincidence?

One teacher held up some books used in her classroom. They are falling apart. She says kids conclude the district doesn't respect them and doesn't respect math because they provide such poor quality materials. However, the only thing of poor quality may be the binding and cover, not the quality of the mathematics. There's no reason to believe that a mathematics textbook printed in 1992 will have poorer quality mathematics. In fact, there are a number of reasons why the opposite may be true. My son's textbook at Roosevelt was falling apart. But he was told by the teacher that the books had such great content the department preferred to use them instead of purchasing newer less quality material. Using textbooks with ratty covers was explained as a sign of respect for the students and respect for math. With some duct tape, my son managed to repair the cover and the book remained useful.

Ms de la Fuente asked a math teacher to talk a little about math teaching, inquiry-based math, parents, Discovering Series, etc. He teaches middle school at TOPS and really likes CMP2 and really likes the Discovering Series.

Teaching at an alternative k8, his graduates disperse to all the comprehensive high schools and many private schools. With schools all using different materials and teaching styles, he is stymied at making sure all students are prepared and appropriately placed in high school classes. That's a big reason why he is anxious for an adoption (this adoption) and uniformity. Well, I can see his point -- up to a point. His problem isn't that schools are using different books, they are using different curricula. We should have better alignment of curriculum, clearer expectations that all schools provide similar learning experiences of content and skills. A uniform textbook is not going to solve that, especially if teachers are told that it is *not* the curriculum and that one can teach the curriculum in a variety of pedagogical styles using the text as a tool. Unless he really expects each teacher to follow the book with some level of fidelity, he is expecting something that's not being promised.

He passed out a packet including a letter he writes to parents and a couple items from Key Press. His letter to parents is called "Helping your students with homework in math." The letter was written in 2005 and revised in 2009. The opening paragraph:

"It's tough to help your student in math, especially as they do what we did to our parents: get far enough in their math that we do not remember how to do it. The other part is mathematics has changed. Mathematics is requiring more understanding of the concepts behind the computations and explaining of what you are doing. Students are held accountable for having computational fluency, but they are also required to understand the reasons behind why we do the computation. Here are some suggestions for helping your student in math that you no longer understand or cannot figure out what is being worked on." [sic]

I really don't know what to say about that. After all, he teaches Mathematics, not Language Arts. But one would hope that with 23 years experience teaching mathematics, one would have better clarity of thought and expression. It also seems incredibly ironic as clarity of writing and expressing oneself mathematically is a major goal of "reform" mathematics.

OK, what does the letter actually suggest? There are 8 suggestions. The first four all pretty much say the same thing. Make sure your student reads the entire problem. Have them reread it aloud to you. Read it aloud to them. Many times that's all that is needed. This is good advice. Yes, no matter the source of the assignment, kids misread, skip important information etc. Many times when a student is stuck, once you make sure the student is reading the correct problem with the correct instructions they say "Nevermind."

Suggestions 5 through 8, however:

5. Have the student explain verbally what the steps that they have to do are. Ask questions such as: What's next? What is the next step? What are you going to do next? And then?
6. Have the student write down what they are going to do. This helps them translate tasks into doable steps.
7. Say the words, "Okay, and what do you do next?"
8. When they say, "I don't know what to do", say the words, "If you did know, what would you do?"


And the summary includes this sentence: "They have the knowledge in their heads to do the work, they just need someone to help them process through that knowledge."

Here he and I completely part ways. I absolutely disagree and this is the main fatal flaw of CMP and Discovery Series as texts. Students do not always have the knowledge in their heads. This presupposes that they were in class mentally and physically, that they took good notes, that they understood the lesson, that the material was presented accurately -- ie, if there were a group inquiry activity, the inevitable errors in reasoning were cleared up before the end of class, and that the teacher (or sub) is of sufficient quality to understand and present the material. If all those conditions were met, if the student understands English, has no disability interfering with understanding the class, then one can assume they might have the knowledge in their heads. Otherwise, they are going to have to get that knowledge somewhere.

Much better suggestions for parents and tutors would be to ask the child to find a similar problem in their class notes; how was that solved? But notes are often inaccurate and incomplete. So the absolute best way to help your child at this point is to say "What similar sample problems are worked out in the text?" And neither CMP or Discovering Algebra is going to help them there. They don't work out sample problems. They are no good as reference material.

As Director DeBell stated -- "reform" math puts too much dependence on the instructor. And oddly enough, Ms de la Fuente pretty much agreed. She would add to it that what's most important is the quality of the relationship between the student and teacher. And she also brought up that we have a shortage of quality math teachers. But yet she wants the district to adopt a text that relies heavily on quality of instructor, quality of relationships. She said in all her years of teaching high school math, she only had two students who failed because they couldn't do the math, the rest who failed were because they "Couldn't do high school." I think there's some truth to that. By high school one has to learn how to deal with a variety of teachers, a variety of relationships and be able to be responsible for learning regardless. One major tool in becoming a more independent learner is to learn how to gain knowledge from a variety of sources, especially directly from the text. That is also a crucial skill for college. Isn't it another irony that the advocates of reform math decry the "spoonfeeding" of information in the traditional classroom, yet do not mind the idea that the book cannot be used as a reference material on its own merit? That the teacher then becomes the gatekeeper of knowledge and the only source of clarification and assurance that the concepts are correctly learned?

Both Directors Sundquist and DeBell asked good and probing questions. And DeBell did some homework! Key Press lists some districts using Discovering series as references. Well, DeBell called one he thought seemed similar to us: San Diego school district. And --- he found out that they are abandoning Discovering and adopting Prentice Hall! When he asked Ms de la Fuente, she acknowledged that, said she found that out as well. But she argued that they did that not because the materials were bad, but because they didn't have enough money for professional development. In other words, the material may be great, but the teachers were not being effective.

I could go on, I already have gone on quite long. I will leave with three quotes.

We got a couple pages from Discovering Algebra: A Guide for Parents, Chapter 2, Proportional Reasoning and Variation. (pages 11-14) Here's a couple quotes from page 11:

"Continue to focus on having your student explain his or her reasoning rather than on getting the "right answer." If the reasoning is good, then good answers will follow."

(No mention of what to do if the reasoning is not good.)

"Thinking about ratios can be challenging. In fact, when working mathematicians disagree about something, such as a question of probability, a ratio is often involved."

(I don't even know what to say about that assertion or how it could guide parents.)

Back to the TOPS math teacher. A director asked him about inquiry vs explicit instruction of material. He said he uses both, likes both, sometimes one is more appropriate than the other. In fact, he said, there is one important topic that cannot be taught with an inquiry method -- Symbolic Manipulation. An important topic that he explicitly teaches and does not use inquiry learning for because "I do not leave that to chance."

anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this Dorothy.

"And neither CMP or Discovering Algebra is going to help them there. They don't work out sample problems. They are no good as reference material."

We have been frustrated with this for two years. I was so frustrated I went to math and stuff to by some books that had "sample problems" in them. It helps my son to be able to see an example, or just be able to access a formula sometimes.

beansa said...

My husband & I are quite concerned about the reform math at our daughter's school. She's only in first grade, but she loves, LOVES, math (as does her software developer dad) and we want to encourage that as much as possible.

We voiced our concerns over EDM, but her teacher says she thinks that EDM is good and that it really gives the kids an understanding of the concepts, etc. At this age, the math is still simple, so maybe the discover-it-yourself method works ok?

One thing that bothers me about the EDM is how much reading is required for her math lessons. She's a bit behind the curve in reading - and quite a bit ahead in math, but the big blocks of text on the math homework sheets she brings home are frustrating as heck for her.

I just graduated from North Seattle Community College, and I can assure you that the math there is 100% traditional. And it goes very fast. I went all the way through Calculus with straight A's in high school all those many years ago and I still struggled with the fast pace of the classes.

So we've been supplementing at home with flash cards and games, making sure she can add & subtract quickly in her head, learning times tables, and generally making sure she understands things.

I don't want to have to do this every year for the next 11 years, but I will. We will homeschool for just math if we have to. It's so frustrating. I've written letters to the board and the Dr. GJ and everyone else I can think of, but it's like screaming into the wind.

Sahila said...

I sometimes wonder if the problem with math isnt necessarily the style of math, the text books or the way its taught but with the fact that many kids arent diagnosed with a particular learning challenge called mixed laterality, also known as cross dominance....

This phenomenon (quite common really) is where the brain hasnt established a dominant hemisphere for data processing and input takes a lot longer to find a home and then be worked with.

All three of my (very, very bright) first family kids had this to some degree, the oldest (now 27) the worst... And it wasnt diagnosed until she was almost finishing her first year of high school... she was having problems with math and Japanese...

This was in Wellington, New Zealand. I took her to a pediatric opthalmologist to have her eyesight checked... the woman found that her eyesight was normal but then did a series of tests to check for dominance... my daughter was right eyed, left eared, right handed and left footed, which totally explained her lack of co-ordination...

It was explained to me that for her, the brain had trouble dealing with input... it would go backwards and forwards across both hemispheres until it reached the appropriate destination, taking extra time to be processed and using a lot of mental energy and concentration, leading to exhaustion and poor performance...

My daughter never could remember multiplication tables and other number patterns, no matter how much drilling there was, so even though she understood the process of solving problems and could demonstrate that, usually her answers were wrong... she wrote beautifully, but the spelling in the middle of some words was jumbled up - all the letter were there but in the wrong order... she could read and speak Japanese but not write Kanji because she couldnt remember the order of the brush strokes...

Even today, when she's driving and someone tells her to turn left, the only way she knows which side is left is to hold up her hands and see where the L is formed between her thumb and first finger...

Her problem with math disappeared when school let her use a calculator - sadly though, because of the late diagnosis and the years of frustration and disappointment with herself and the lack of confidence, she never achieved her full learning potential in this area...

This was back in 1991 or 92.... when my older son started school in New Zealand in 1993, he was tested for laterality within his first few weeks - such testing is a routine part of baseline physical, intellectual and emotional testing when children start school at five. Teaching to address laterality issues has been part of teachers' training college curriculums since the mid 1980s... Most schools use brain gym exercises to help the brain establish dominance in kids where it is an issue and to supplement/strengthen literacy and numeracy processing skills in kids who dont have this problem...

How many US kids do poorly in math because they have an undiagnosed challenge?

Anonymous said...

I would like to see a discussion about charter schools. Nuts and bolts. How they work, how they're funded, how they're launched, how they're managed, how they're shut down, what makes successful ones and what makes failures. Does this merit its own thread?

I'm neither a fan nor an opponent, but the topic seems to keep cropping up these days (via Charleston), and I honestly don't know that much about them. I would like to be better educated, and web sites are full of propaganda supporting one side or the other. Not that I don't expect to read biased and ignorant posts here as well ;-), but I'm hoping, maybe naively, for a wider range of viewpoints.

Firsthand experiences would be great to hear about, or maybe secondhand if fairly close. Links to articles would be okay if we could get a mix of pro and con.

Is anyone else interested? Or do we have our collective ears covered, singing La-La-La-La-it's-not-going-to-happen... ?

dan dempsey said...

The odd thing about this adoption is the lack of even one really sufficient reason for adopting the "Discovering Series".

As Dorothy pointed out: the books are old and ratty so you must adopt "Discovering" now, just does not cut it for a reason.

Another particularly odd thing is the Improving Academic Achievement: PreK-12 Mathematics a four page document, which can be found linked to the 4-08-09 meeting Agenda at D: Introduction items 1. High School Math adoption.

This document shows what a train wreck the current situation is and then for improvement hardly suggests anything more than aligning the curriculum.

Aligning means teaching the state math standards. The district has avoided the WA Standards focus on Standard algorithms like the plague preferring to follow the bloated non aligned jumbled EDM pacing plan.

If you read the above "Improvement" document, it is quite apparent that things are a mess and the district plan is to hope things get better.

I went to the meeting last night hoping to understand the reasons for the adoption recommendation. The district's case makes this adoption action seem more like fashion merchandising than a rational decision making process.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data. The district has no relevant data. It is just fashion merchandising and that is not good enough to produce an academic improvement.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I am planning on covering charters soon but it does take a bit of research. I might talk to some people over at the UW's Center for Reinventing Education as they are big on them. There were also some good articles at the Washington Post (D.C. has the second highest number in the nation but the suburbs around them are resistant to the idea.)

Stu said...

Our son applied to two private schools for next year, got into both, and will be leaving the public schools behind this fall. We love the education he received in the earlier grades but, with all the changes, virtually no science, and ridiculous directions in math, at least for the foreseeable future, we no longer feel we can trust the district with his education. He LOVES math and science and just will not be getting what he needs. In addition, with the new start times for elementary schools, he would no longer be able to participate in some after-school programs.


With all the changes, new start times, longer bus routes, division/dilution of programs, and the constant decisions to study things AFTER implementation, the district has actually chased us away. We will continue to volunteer and donate to the neighborhood school -- he hasn't attended there in 4 years but we strongly believe in the idea of public schools, even while disagreeing with almost every decision made by the current board -- but we will not miss the angst.

stu

dan dempsey said...

rugles asked:
"What's up with Patty Murray?

One of ten democrats who joined all 41 Rebublicans to vote last week in favor of cutting estate taxes for the wealthiest families in America.


Excellent question Bill Gates and his dad have argued vehemently against the cutting of estate taxes. So what does Patty Murray have to say?