Disqus

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Alliance For Education Breakfast

So I missed the annual Alliance for Education breakfast yesterday. According to an op-ed in the Times, there were 900 people which is a great turnout for public education. Not content with just an op-ed, there was also a Times editorial touting it.

Do not get me wrong; I think the revamped Alliance for Education is doing some good things and is being a lot better run than it used to be. So I am not here to say I don't like the Alliance. However, they do tend to fall into the same cheerleading camp as the Seattle Council PTSA (another group I like). And that's okay except that I truly believe it would help if the district heard some hard truths from both groups occasionally. But that never happens publicly and frankly, that's where it would count.

So the editorial was all a-glow. Here's why:

"Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson gave a compelling outline of the system's successes, including improved test scores. But the spotlight, and proof of her words, rested on the students.

There were the six students, three in elementary school who welcomed the crowd in flawless Japanese, Spanish and Mandarin, languages they are studying at one of the district's five schools with international studies programs.

Rainier Beach High School senior Travonna Wiley will be the first in her family to attend college when she heads to Clark Atlanta University next fall. Several years ago, the district, pondering whether or not to close struggling Rainier Beach, instead increased college-preparation classes. Wiley, and another college-bound student speaking at the breakfast, Tyler Pendleton, are proof the district's gamble is paying off."

Slow down, Times. Improved test scores? Is that overall because I missed that news. Has the graduation rate gone up? I missed that as well.

And as gently as I can say it, trotting out a few student successes does not make a successful district. Rainier Beach High School has ALWAYS had graduates who went to college. I would agree that having more AP and encouraging more students to take AP courses probably helps but it's way too early to be calling it a major success. And it wasn't "several years back" that the district pondered closing RBHS, it was just last year.

Then there's the op-ed piece by Patrick D'Amelio, the head of the Alliance and George Griffin who is the Board chairman for the Alliance. It's a little more realistic than the editorial.

"Why are their stories important? Because just two years ago, AP classes weren't offered on the same scale they are today at Cleveland and Rainier Beach. At Cleveland, there are now seven AP courses, up from two last year. At Rainier Beach, there are nine AP courses, up from four.

AP classes are a boost because they encourage students to think deeply, read voraciously and conquer challenging material. And of course, it's the kind of thing colleges look for in prospective students. AP classes helped Yonas stand out to Western Washington University."

Well said. But there is the more pressing issue of what about the kids who are really struggling at those schools? AP won't help them. So it might be more helpful to know how struggling kids are doing in a struggling school.

Also from the op-ed:

"There's one more thing we can all do: think big. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has challenged America to do just that. He sees a new world where schools are open 12 hours a day, and are the source of health services, art class, tutoring — whatever a student or parent needs. In that world, the school is the center of community life.

Seattle is hearing the call. At the Alliance for Education, we are reaching out to partners and to the community, to determine how to bring that model to Seattle. It's a bold vision that requires all of us — the entire Seattle community — to play a part."

And bravo! That's what the Alliance should be doing - helping the district to make these connections and get these kind of initiatives going. On its own, the district not done a lot to make the schools open to more uses. Someone needs to push them along and that push comes in the form of the Alliance.

29 comments:

Dorothy Neville said...

AP classes are a boost because they encourage students to think deeply, read voraciously and conquer challenging material..


Hmm. Very interesting. Yet at the same time Roosevelt LA department defends their "most unique" view of not having AP courses because AP requires one to plow through texts too fast, in a superficial manner.

Gouda said...

I have no issue with RBHS having more AP classes. I do wonder how those students will be prepared for the rigor when it's lacking in all of the other years though. An AP class alone does not a rigorous school make.

I was at a meeting where Robert Gary was in attendance, and he all but admitted that the students did not do well on the AP exams.

I agree with Melissa here; the Alliance is yet another cheerleader. I'm skeptical about their community engagement plan / partnership with the District. That partnership doesn't allow the Alliance to ask difficult questions.

I don't mind an organization praising work the District has done. But turning a blind eye and touting RBHS as a success story goes too far.

beatrice said...

Instead of the district using the fall PSAT scores to figure out some kind of reasonable math placement and some kind of math remediation, we get rah-rah happy-happy speeches. I suppose as long as the donors and contributors with open checkbooks keep showing up, why should anyone point out that the king's clothes are threadbare, or, a joke?

BullDogger said...

The Alliance called me a couple weeks ago looking for a donation. I had to nicely tell them I could not support and provide my observations of a district staff with big plans, little follow through and almost no accountability.

The alliance does serve a role but they could do so much more to guide SPS and oversee results (PTSA could also). Until that happens my donations go to some of the well run and parent lead foundations supporting the arts (like Garfield's fantastic jazz and orchestra programs). At least I know where the money goes.

Beatrice... plenty of people have noticed the king's (lack of) clothing. I suspect Alliance donors either have plenty of money to spare and/or little inside knowledge of how SPS operates.

ParentofThree said...

I started to suspect that the Alliance for Ed was questionable when I read that they were the ones who printed the annual report puff piece.


My money will also go directly to school organizations where I know it is well spent!

wseadawg said...

Puff...puff...puff...and when the smoke clears, start shoveling.

seattle citizen said...

"...Arne Duncan...sees a new world where schools are open 12 hours a day, and are the source of health services, art class, tutoring — whatever a student or parent needs. In that world, the school is the center of community life.

...At the Alliance for Education, we are reaching out to partners and to the community, to determine how to bring that model to Seattle. It's a bold vision that requires all of us — the entire Seattle community — to play a part."

Hmm, BRING this to Seattle? I seem to recall a one hundred page business plan, put together two or three years ago by some of the John Marshall staff when it became apparent that Marshall was closing and services to its students would need to be rethought and amped up (and this prior to the "safety net" audit and reconfiguration), that proposed this very model: A school open into the evening, serving as a hub for all sorts of community services, teaching adults as well as children (and the children's children)...
It was called in the plan the Ravenna Boulevard Academy. All that was missing from it were the precise costs.
It was shopped around the town, to various community organizations, and received kudos as a plan well worth study.
It was sent to JSCEE. If I recall, the comment back was "the Marshall building is not suited for K-12 education; it has no playfields." or words to that effect.
RBA was not site-specific; it was a plan for a school in the community, not for that specific building.

Do we need to bring the same "bold vision" in from Washington DC? Or can we nurture better relationships between educator here in our own district and draw on local talent, mutual respect and listening, to make better resources for the students?

suep. said...

Well put, seattle citizen. There was a school like that in Charleston, S.C., that provided all those extra nonacademic services for the kids--even laundry, etc. Test scores went up. But in the end, the school and principal (appointed or supported by then-Charleston School Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson, I believe) is being investigated for test-score fraud. (School’s Success Gives Way to Doubt http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/31/education/31charleston.html) Apparently someone had been erasing the kids' incorrect answers and replacing them with the correct ones. Sadly, these kids were not helped academically much at all.

seattle citizen said...

Well, Gavroche, but your comment only looks at what such a school did wrong, and indicates that maybe that school (a community school similar to RBA?), supported by Dr. G-J, didn't really help the students.
Perhaps not: perhaps the cheating on the tests (however it was done) showed gains where there were none.

But another way to look at "gains" is retention: I know it's almost blaspehmous to talk about this anymore, but for some kids just showing up is a success.

Certainly it's not enough: we all want these children to be fully capable of succeeding in the adult world when they graduate at 18. But some of them are in the 4th grade level at 19: They just ain't gonna be in college with the other 19-year-olds, they're lucky to be off the streets.

I believe that one of the main benefits of a community school, a school that includes social services, day care, adult (parent) learning opportunities, food, maybe even shelter...is that it gives some students a place that is neutral, safe, caring...a place where adults are present every day, forming healthy relationships with kids that often bounce around broken homes, broken streets, with no one but their "gang," (or alone), learning a whole different mentality of living from their older brothers and sisters, sometimes from their fathers and mothers...

This mentality is one of turf, respect, life lived in the moment fighting little tiny battles writ large...life that most likely, in these youths' minds, will end at twenty.

THESE are the students that a community school can help. Test scores? Heck, these are rescue operations, these are attempts to save lives.

Education has many faces, and for some, the education they need most is learning that there are places other than the street; there are people other than the toughs and the gangs; there is warmth and care waiting for them day-in, day-out.

WASL scores come later: The victory is getting the student in the door on a regular basis, getting them off the streets...Say what you will about John Marshall and other "safety net" schools, but one thing they excell(ed) at is providing neutral ground where opposing gangs and nervous loners could find love and care without watchting their back 24/7.

seattle citizen said...

speak o' the devil: Charlie just posted a new thread on an upcoming gang violence forum....

Conversely, in other threads we hear about how we need to target money and resources to struggling schools. Brings us full circle to the old argument: How can we be more efficient so regular ed, advanced, and developmental ALL ge their needs met?

There's gotta be a way...

WV says that gailistr but she didn't know...

Charlie Mas said...

Here's what I think.

I don't think that we need to target money to struggling schools. I think that we need to target our resources and efforts on struggling students.

The District needs to be able to identify every student in K-10 who is not working at Standard and provide that student with the support they need to get to grade level. It may be something that can be provided within their regular classroom and it may not.

If not, then let's not hesitate to bring these specific students into a program designed to quickly get them up to Standard and back to the regular classroom.

I don't think it helps these kids to hold them back a grade, but it clearly doesn't help to promote them either.

We don't hesitate to bring together students who are working one or two grade levels ahead, why hesitate to bring together students who are working one or two grade levels behind?

If they are brought together they can get what they need - smaller class sizes, longer schools days, more time on task, and tons of enrichment. I envision an intensive, accelerated, and enriched program that quickly brings them up to grade level Standards and returns them to their general education classrooms ready and able to do the work.

They cannot be adequately served in the general education classroom and their presence there is often disruptive. Imagine if they were in classes of 15 that started with breakfast, had four ninety-minute sections for reading, writing, math, and science/social studies (six hours of core education), with a break for lunch and recess for 1-5 or P.E. for 6-10. Then follow that with another couple hours of either structured homework, study habits, art, music, dance, or a field trip. Add a half-day Saturday session for structured homework time and study habits with a snack. The enrichment is a critical element. First to make it clear that the program is not a boot camp or a punishment. Second because lack of enrichment like that is a known source of the academic achievement gap.

We could work to staff the program with some of our best teachers. They would get extra pay for the extra hours. We could save some money by using paraprofessionals for the hours of the extended day and extended week.

The goal is to get the students quickly up to grade level and return them to their general education class. We could get every student up to Standard in two to three years.

Think what the general education classes would be like if every student in the room were ready and able to do grade level work! How many discipline issues have their root in the student's inability to do the work? Think how much easier it would be for the teacher to teach the grade level curriculum and to offer support to students who are working beyond grade level. So students outside the program would benefit as well.

It would be costly - at first. But the program would shrink as students are brought up to grade level and returned to the general education classroom.

And when they come back, they will be among the best prepared students in their class. We don't want to return them to the bottom. The community needs to see that the kids are capable. It would be great if we could return them as classroom leaders, but it is more important to get them back quickly.

suep. said...

Perhaps what we're getting at here is the answer to: What is the fundamental purpose of a school? Is it merely academic (course not) -- or is it supposed to meets all the needs of children that aren't being met by society or at home? Seems like a tall order. I absolutely agree that test scores are just one measure -- and more often than not a questionable one at that. I think a school should be an academically inspiring and nurturing community in which a child can learn and grow. The best schools do this. In fact -- and ironically -- some of the SPS schools doing just this are the very ones this Superintendent and Board targeted for closure, splitting apart, or moving to a less suitable environment. That's why it's so hard to figure what this School District is truly trying to achieve.

seattle citizen said...

Yes, gavroche, I think some things are being missed in current reconfigurations of schools and programs.

Charlie, you hit the nail on the head on all points.

The district IS, to its credit, working to establish:
a) dashboard that serves to help do this tracking of where students are at;
b) develop remediations in the form or
b1) differentiation (to address the small increments of skill level in a general ed class, and
b2) developmental classes for those who are struggling more than the differentiation can address, for example the Read 180 classrooms.
To your comments, I would add an intermediate level: If a student is not successful in, say, Reading, buildings should have a developmental class in Reading in the building, not just in some other building dedicated to struggling students. There needs to be developmental (remedial) resources in the schools, because students aren't always struggling with everything: they may be a math whiz but can't write: should they go to some other specialized school to get developmental reading, writing AND math?

I'd also like to see more of the community involved in the developmental classrooms and schools: not only would grades and success be tracked, but also needs, such as hunger, home, gang issues, etc. A wrap-around support.

Meanwhile, WV and I are going on a date tonight (don't tell my wife!)...we're going to Beliallo for some spaghetti!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Backing up Charlie's comments, this is from NY Times editorial I referenced in another thread (Dropout Factories):

"Researchers can now predict as early as sixth grade which students are likely to leave school without diplomas. These children are often easy to reach because they feel bad about performing poorly in school and want desperately to succeed. Several states and localities, often working with foundations and community groups, have already lowered dropout rates significantly by providing help to students and strengthening the schools they attend."

suep. said...

Seattle Citizen, my concern about asking so much of schools (and teachers) is that it can add up to an impossible task and lead to ultimate failure, which is discouraging for all involved.

Gang violence, poverty, all of society's ills and inequities need to be addressed by society as a whole, and can't all be put on the shoulders of and solved by the schools.

I like Charlie's idea. It sounds do-able and a more realistic vision for what schools can and should achieve for our kids.

seattle citizen said...

Thanks, Melissa, for THE key, from the NY Times quote in your last post:
"These children are often easy to reach because they feel bad about performing poorly in school and want desperately to succeed."

That says it all.
Kids WANT to succeed. If they are confronted with ideas or materials that are beyond them, they recycle the idea that they are dumb, then they rebel against it because we all DO need to feel successful and important and valued, and how much value do we place on dumbness? So they (speaking in generalities, of course) retreat to other forums to find "success": drugs, gangs, stealing, depression (yes, one can be a "successful" depressive)

The "easy to reach" part is merely (?!) finding their need, building them up to the necessary level (or, where that is impossible as some have better potentials in some areas than in others, to a similar level in some other area)
and showing them how to be successful.

wseadawg said...

Everyone above is right, especially Charlie. I've made that specific case to Board members, and it fell on deaf ears. They care more about fancy systems, than individual kids. Its the macro approach, which dooms their plans to failure each time down the path.

Instead of supporting teachers, the district is buying the national line that teachers are the problem, not the answer.

Coaches? Outside consultants? Contractors? How big of a check can we write?

But actually helping struggling kids by giving them the best resources and attention? Not likely to happen, because that labels those kids, and might hurt their feelings. Easy to think that way hanging around JSCEE all the time, and never getting out to the schools.

Hate to enter the weekend on a sour note, but I watched too much of last nights Board meeting.

Mr. Edelman said...

It isn't a mystery that intervention programs can help students catch up and that, if well implemented, they're worth the investment. But someone has to pay for them. They don't come free.

Check out, for example, the studies that have come out of the California Dropout Research Project.

Increasing the on-time and 5-year graduation rates is a big goal of this district. What research-based strategies, exactly, is the district using to increase the graduate rate? What best practices is it following?

Every student achieving, everyone accountable.

seattle citizen said...

gavroche,
Yes, it's asking a lot of schools to pile on all these things....we SHOULD expect it of society, or parents/guardians....but that's like waiting for Godot: "He SAID he'd come..."

Meanwhile, we have kids suffering and communities suffering. Where else would we put multi-service centers than at schools? Bring the parents and the community around the kids.

Sahila said...

Charlie's idea of pulling 'under grade level functioning' children out and factory 'hot housing' them is a brave attempt to fix a problem that doesnt really exist...

The 'problem' is that there is an expectation that every child in a certain age band will be able to 'perform' at a certain, standardised level.... life/nature isnt like that, nor are people...

A much simpler way of giving children the attention/resources they need to do the best they can at the level that's most appropriate for each, unique human being with its own unique talents and potentials, would be to have multi-age classrooms - a 2 or 3 grade span, or if you want to be really visionary a k-8 age span! - of no more than 30 children, staffed with 2 or 3 teachers who are trained to educate across a wide range of ages, abilities and subject areas....

Having an individualised vertical curriculum path, rather than a horizontal grading system would resolve this issue....

If 'special ed' and APP kids can have their individual needs met, via IEPs etc, why cant 'average' or 'normal' kids have the same right to be themselves and to grow and learn at their own paces?

seattle citizen said...

Sahila, in principal I agree. But (and call me a naysayer, I'm calloused and jaded, 'tis true) it would be sooo expensive, in my opinion, and while differentiation is a great concept, and happens in classrooms where it's done in optimal conditions, classrooms aren't always optimal.
I'd LOVE to have a system where students aren't even in a grade a'tall: they are proficient or not in a wide range of areas, and receive lessons where they're at, academically...But (there's that naysayer again!) the system ain't so: it's been stratified by grade for YEARS, and maybe for some good reasons, I don't know...Maybe because it's more efficient (and we DO have to consider efficiencies when educating 100 million children) and maybe it's helpful to have a littel incentive for students to reach higher, puch harder, get ideas in a sequence and fairly rapidly...There's so much to learn: the basics (however one cares to describe them) are necessary, and should, in my opinion, be learned at appropriate times. So, while it's true that a little flexoibility is appropriate , maybe 2-3 years for any given subject or skill acquisition, in the interest of educating a LOT of people, a lot of nDIFFERENT sorts of people who have, shall I say, issues of their own (school or world or parent generated), a big ol' public system might not be able to be as precisley accurate in giving each student lessons at the exact level each time: there is, built in, a certain, "come on now, hurry up to catch up!" that might be both necessary and an incentive.

But in an ideal world I'm with you: to quote Ray Bavies, "give the people what they want" (at that particular moment in each kid's developmental level)!

Sahila said...

Seattle Citizen - they were doing multi-age classrooms very successfully in New Zealand and Australian public schools when my first family was at school - they're now 28, 26 and 22 - and schools were implementing vertical curricula in Australia when we lived there from 1996-2004... I know cos my kids experienced mixed age classrooms in both countries and were in high school in Australia when a vertical curriculum system was being introduced after their school and the elementary school next door were merged into a Grade 1-12 school....

Multi-age classrooms have the advantage of knowledge transfer learning via peer groups - much more like real life in (healthy) extended families and community, where learning doesnt happen only via designated 'teachers' but rather also through the olders/elders passing knowledge on down through the generations...

Have 30 kids in a big enough space that can be broken into learning areas, have 2 or 3 teachers so that the teacher/child ratio is kept at an optimal level and you will see achievement levels rocket... and its no more expensive than running the model you have going here because you have less remedial costs - less ambulance at the bottom of the cliff expenses. There's a reason American schools do so badly compared to others in the western world - best practice in both teaching methodology and brain learning science that has been implemented elsewhere long ago is nowhere to be found in this public school system...

Charlie Mas said...

I don't imagine for one second that children learn at the same pace in any discipline, let alone all of them. It is a patently absurd suggestion.

Nevertheless, there are state mandates that Seattle Public Schools must meet. Among those state mandates are the State-defined grade level expectations.

So, while I believe that the path to closing the academic achievement gap by bringing all students up to Standards is to identify the students who are not at Standard and making the effort necessary to bring them to Standard, I am also a strong supporter of our alternative schools.

Alternative schools play an important role as places for experimentation and academic and pedagological freedom. They should be non-Standard. I would be very comfortable to exempt the alternative schools from the grade level expectations - except that they need to have students at grade level before graduating them to the next level of schooling.

So folks who want multi-age classrooms and folks who don't want to be bound by the grade level expectations should have a place where they can get that style of education.

seattle citizen said...

Sahila, I was about to pounce on the "2-3 teachers, 30 students" part of your comment: "What?! We can't afford THAT!" when you went on to say that we currently pay for teh remedial and band aid (ambulance at the bottom of the cliff...nice analogy!).
Furthermore, it goes beyond remedial costs IN schools: There's societal costs, as well, as students (and society) suffer from the slings and arrows of regimented locksteps of grade levels: how much does it cost society when a student Is "behind" a grade, suffers, fails, drops out, produces less, commits crime, and ends up at Walla Walla?

So the cost are pribably near equal. Unfortunately, as I ruminated in aother post, this socity seems to thrive on band aides and shun the cheaper prophylactics that save money, foster better learning, and spare needless anguish in our children.

Perhaps, following Charlie's admonition about state expectations, it would behoove us to lobby the state for more support of alternatives to meeting "standard" (they do suppluy most of the cash, the tax dollars: THEY might be the ones to lobby.

Sahila said...

For all of those interested in how (public) school might look - for 'gifted' and 'normal' and 'special ed' kids if we implemented a vertical curriculum system...

http://austega.com/gifted/provisions/vertunittimetable.htm

As you can see, this article is dated 1996 and refers to an Australian school that implemented the system in 1993 - more than 15 years ago...

http://www.civicsandcitizenship.edu.au/cce/default.asp?id=10601
this Brisbane high school was created in 1999 with a vertical curriculum...

and here's another...
http://www.productreview.com.au/showitem.php?item_id=24621

and if you really want to get excited about education reform, read this:
http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=7241

Please note that there's a very successful school referenced in this post, that has had a vertical curriculum since 1978...

Sahila said...

My last contribution in making this point about not needing to 'hothouse' children who are 'falling below grade standards'... that there really isnt a problem with the kids and the teachers or even with the material being taught, that the problem lies with expecting unique individuals to learn and perform at a standardised pace and level....

And with all this evidence available, can anyone tell me why SPS (or any other public school system in this country) persists in flogging a dead horse and punishing the kids for the failure of the system????

Sorry - I dont know how to make the links active....

http://www.brookes.ac.uk/schools/education/rescon/ocnef/Adapting%20middle%20shool%20education%20to%20research%20on%20Brain%20Function.doc.

Sahila said...

Sorry again - I noticed that my last blog post didnt contain all the link information and I dont know how to get around that... so I'm including below the title, author and publishing information about the article I referenced, so you can go find it yourself - its a 9-page Word document, also available on the web in HTML.

Geake, J. G. (2003). Adapting Middle Level educational practices to current research on brain functioning. Journal of the New England League of Middle Schools, 15(2), 6-12.

Perhaps you'll now have some idea why I am angu(ish)ing - WV - over the appalling quality of public education my son and his peers are forced to endure here in this country...

Charlie Mas said...

Here are Sahila's links:

vertical unitized curriculumCentenary State High SchoolRuncorn State High Schooleducation reformAdapting middle school education to research on Brain Function - a WORD document

Denis Francis said...

I have been a really old reader on your website and would love to endorse the work you have done writing your blog posts. kudos for sharing that! Thank you