Sunday, October 04, 2009


So a reader here innocently asked what I knew about STEM, the program coming to Cleveland High. Well, I knew it stood for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. And, I made a very bad assumption, based on a throwaway line Director Maier said to me at the Eckstein BTA levy meeting. He said the district didn't think it up but that it has been done nationally. Well, he is kind of right.

I made the assumption that this is an established program. It isn't. It is an established direction that the feds want to go in (see the National Science Foundation website for details or the STEM caucus in Congress website). As well, over in the Tri-cities, a new foundation has been created, Washington State STEM Education Foundation. They have a factsheet in their discussion area that lays out what they say STEM is and is not.

The STEM school over there is Delta High School, organized by the districts in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland. From their website:

Delta High School is a small public high school offering immersion in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), combined with other subjects. This design brings a unique high school experience to our community. Delta students will direct their learning and practice inquiry, problem, and project-based learning.

Delta High School has a rigorous and relevant STEM-focused curriculum that prepares each student for career, college, and life success in a changing world. State, national, and college-ready standards serve as the launch pad for this curriculum.

"The STEM high school design provides a tailored learning environment for students of all academic levels and interests. Key characteristics of a STEM school include:

  • College-ready and work-ready culture
  • Student as a worker, teacher as a facilitator, industry/community as mentors
  • Emphasis on personalized learning plans
  • Another pathway to success for students"
Additionally (somewhat edited for space by me with bold by me as well),

Q: How was a STEM school developed for our community?

In a meeting with the three school boards in August 2007, Battelle, Washington State University Tri-Cities, and the Kennewick, Pasco and Richland School Districts formally proposed creating a new public, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) high school in the Tri-Cities. Initial reaction from the school boards and the community was positive. The boards encouraged the partners to proceed with planning and to return when they had a plan in place that covered an educational framework, finances and a facility.

Since that meeting, grants from Battelle and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation allowed the partners to hire a planning project manager, Amy Ochander, in October 2007, and a planning principal, Deidre Holmberg, in July 2008. The grants also allowed the team to hire nationally recognized consultants in small school design and STEM education to help plan the Tri-Cities school.

Following the August 2007 meeting, the partners aggressively set about to create a highly personalized school that attracts a broad spectrum of students who will be immersed in STEM learning experiences. The partners held public meetings and engaged parents, students, teachers, scientists, engineers and community members in the planning process. Included in the school will be opportunities for student learning that parallels the ways scientists, engineers and mathematicians conduct inquiries and expand knowledge. Partnerships that connect academic learning to the world beyond the classroom will help prepare students to succeed in post-secondary education, careers and citizenship.

Representatives from the three school districts, WSU Tri-Cities, Battelle, consultants and many local education and science professionals collaborate to create the school’s education framework, which includes a program of study, curriculum and classes."

Sounds great, huh? However, that means that every STEM school in the country is probably, unless it goes through NSF, being developed differently. It also means that the development of Cleveland's STEM program is in the hands of our district.

I do and don't mean that how it sounds. I do mean that this district is not great at developing programs. I don't mean it can't be done. The district developed the biotech program at Ballard and it works well from what I understand. However, that's a program, not a whole school. The district developed the academy system at Cleveland and that hasn't worked well. Also, you'll note the bold up there about community engagement. The district, as usual, has put the cart before the horse.

Where was the community input that decided this would be what parents in that community want? It would be great if it was such a fab program that kids all over the district fight to get in but first, whether it's an Option school or not, it sits in someone's community and it should be something the community understands and supports. Just saying STEM isn't good enough.

Here's from the staff report to the Board in June:
In order to effectively implement the STEM program a project team has been identified,
including a project manager and sponsor, and a statement of work has been created. The
following are deliverables for the team:
• Identification of the appropriate STEM program model
• Development of a project budget and long-term costs for the program (note: this
project team is not charged with identifying the funding source but rather with
identifying the costs)
• Creation of a communications plan, including a plan for stakeholder engagement
• Identification of the necessary instructional skill sets to ensure staff are ready
• Creation of an implementation plan, including a readiness plan for the 09-10
Cleveland 9th graders, in preparation for a 2010-2011 continuation at CHS STEM
• Creation of a transition plan for those students who chose not to remain in the
• Creation of an evaluation tool for the first, second and third years of implementation

Delta High sounds like a lot of planning and joint partnerships. We have a ton of great universities and businesses that could make Cleveland STEM a powerhouse. Is this happening now? Will it happen in time to open Cleveland as a STEM? (I mean I think I understand that Cleveland will be a STEM Option school by 2010. But if it is that soon, that's a lot of planning to make it REALLY work.)

So the Action report approved in June this year says:

"STEM high schools are unique, and offer a systematic, four-year course of study with an intense focus on preparing students for academic and professional futures in science, technology, engineering and math. Because of this, a STEM school is not necessarily desirable to all students. "

As opposed to what Delta High says:

"Q: Is the school just meant for AP students or those who are going into science or engineering careers?

No! The STEM school is uniquely positioned to provide a highly personalized education to a broad spectrum of students – students of all academic levels and interests. In fact, we encourage students who wouldn’t normally gravitate toward advanced science or math courses to attend the school"

Under Research and Data on the Action Report it says:

"Numerous Board work sessions and community meetings included discussion of how different
schools would be categorized, what tiebreakers would apply, and how the different types of
schools would interact in the new assignment plan. "

That was on the SAP, not STEM. There were not community meetings on STEM.

The report also references a "STEM Foundation". I cannot find it on-line and they provide no links anywhere.

So that was a good question to ask. I'm not sure I have faith in the answers the district has provided.


ms ws said...

I totally agree with Mr. Lorensen! Seat/instruction time is important in the SSD. Why should my child be espected the learn the same amount of math with less instruction time from the teacher? All the comprehensive high schools in the district should use the same amount of teaching time. Passing time, team time, advisory time, second breakfast should not be included in instruction time! 150 hours of INSTRUCTION per credit please. I hope the School Board will do the right thing.
Parent of a struggling senior.

SolvayGirl said...

Thanks Melissa. THat really helps understand the STEM Program (or the fact that there is no real STEM program). I'm just amazed that you make the time to find all this out for all of us. I just wish more people read this blog. I believe if they did, there would be a mob descending on District headquarters tomorrow.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip! I have a blog that deals exclusively with STEM (stemology.wordpress.com), including items about schools, and am going to include your news there. If you or others want to understand more about where STEM may be headed, come on over!

LouiseM said...

Yes, every STEM school or program is unique. There are no national STEM standards and there was a study just released by the National Science Academies covering that particular problem. Turns out the study is a really good roadmap for folks to use who are starting a STEM program.

On another note, I'm curious about why folks are so upset about Cleveland having a STEM program. What makes you think the community doesn't want it? Or maybe you think it doesn't deserve it? Or maybe it's because the district itself is actually designing it?

Given all the data that shows where job opportunities are and the fact that there's a dearth of people of color in these fields, and Cleveland has mostly kids of color, I would think you'd support it.

I too hope that the district does the proper planning. It took us 3 years to plan TAF Academy and there's still more work to do as we learn more about our students and what it takes to get them from where they are to where we know they can/should be.

hschinske said...

"On another note, I'm curious about why folks are so upset about Cleveland having a STEM program."

They're not. They're upset that Cleveland may be getting a program that's STEM in name only, and actually good for nothing in particular.

Helen Schinske

SolvayGirl said...

Exactly Helen...we're tired of the District throwing labels at schools (especially in the southend) and programs "academies," "ALO," "Spectrum," "Southeast Initiative," et al., without anything to back them up. It's as if the District believes that, like the all and powerful Oz, if they just rename something we'll believe it's better.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think that Cleveland deserves a program that is a solid one AND one the community has had input on and embraces. You'll note that I put in bold-face the number of times that the folks in Eastern Washington who developed Delta did just that.

I worry about the roll-out of an all-new program (which will encompass the entire school) that is being developed in less than a year. Who is the district partnering with? The district's description seems to imply this is a speciality program for some students while the Delta program encourages all comers. Why would our district want to create barriers like this?

I'll support it when I believe the district has the commitments from outside partners and engages the community.

The district seems to be very committed to not letting any high school fail. Which is great but you'd like to see that kind of commitment across the board. There is both staff time and money being put into this effort. I don't want it to be for nothing.

Bluntly, if we are throwing more time and money at Cleveland, then it better be in support of something that will work. STEM may be it but if it fails, it will say more about the district than STEM.

anne said...

But at the same time the idea has some merit and could succeed if parents got behind it.

There is an options school with an arts focus that's popular, why wouldn't this have the same potential? Everyone on this blog talks about how the failing schools need to be closed and reinvented as something desirable.

I think the proposal makes sense. I have a child that would consider a science/math focused school if it had high quality classes.

Here's an opportunity to help a good idea succeed. Get involved in helping to make it succeed. Rather than complain that the district won't get it right from the sidelines, here's an opportunity to try to help improve things.

Does anyone know whether there are committees working on Cleveland's new direction?

LouiseM said...

Anne asked Does anyone know whether there are committees working on Cleveland's new direction?

Anne, they talked to TAF back in February, then again in April. They wanted to know about our experience launching a STEM school. I was very candid about the work--particularly focused on creating school culture and having the best staff who are on the same page. So from my own experience I know they're at least talking to other folks. There are a lot of models out there, so no need to reinvent the wheel. It's really about execution (STEM or not) when it comes to launching new programs/schools.

reader said...

There is an options school with an arts focus that's popular, why wouldn't this have the same potential? Everyone on this blog talks about how the failing schools need to be closed and reinvented as something desirable.

What school is that? It does seem pretty ridiculous to constantly harp about "closing the failing schools". There's lots of evidence that simply opening and closing failing schools doesn't work either. Why would it? It isn't all about the school.

anne said...


doesn't the Center School have an art's focus and is popular?

SolvayGirl said...

The Center School has sort of an arts focus...but it's not all-encompassing. They have no music or dance, for example, in the official curriculum. They have drama and stage tech as electives in 10-12th grade, but these are partnerships with Seattle Rep (hence moving the school to somewhere like RBHS would not include moving these electives). Visual art is a strong component and worked into all the curriculum.

They do offer some after-school arts classes that might offer music or dance, but these change regularly and are subject to the interest of the student body.

I would consider the arts program at Roosevelt more all-encompassing...and the program at the now-closed Summit probably covered all bases the best.

Bird said...


Since you have experience with this, what do you think will be the hardest thing for SPS in trying to get a successful STEM off the ground?

How's TAF working out? What are some things that have worked and some things that haven't.

Do you have any opinions about what parents can do to help this process?

I think, as I'm sure everyone does, that it would be great to have a successful STEM school. I wonder very much, however, whether the district is up to the challenge.

LouiseM said...

Bird (etal),

Once an academic model is established (i.e. will it be a particular STEM subject--like aviation or biotech--or will it be a breath of STEM knowledge) then the hardest thing will be to have the right leadership and teaching talent in place. When I say "right" I mean people with entrepreneurial spirit who are willing to learn/try new things and put children first.

I cannot stress that enough and when I talked to the Cleveland folks I put a huge exclaimation mark on it.

The other thing to recognize is unless you're deciding to work with all kids who are achieving at or above standard, you have to have a clear handle on what your kids do and don't know and what it takes to get them where they need to be. That is seriously hard work (lots of assessing and changing lessons to make sure you reach every kid).

I could go on and on, but the best way to get a handle on this work is to read our TAF Academy year 1 report (http://www.techaccess.org/tafpdfs/tafacademy/TAFAcademyNetworkReport2008-2009.pdf). There is the good, the bad and the ugly there.

We learned a lot of lessons, had a lot of tough discussions and decision to make, and were truly humbled (but not discouraged) by the amount of heavy lifting that is required to open a school.

We're having a great start on year #2, but we have about another year before you can walk into every classroom and see exemplary teaching and learning.

Charlie Mas said...

Trish et al,

Just to be really clear, no one wants the S.T.E.M. program at Cleveland to fail. No one wishes the school or the students ill. I think you know that.

Here is our concern: the District says that they are going to make data-based decisions. Okay, where is the data that demonstrates a demand for this program in this location? Thre is none.

Here is our concern: the District places this program in this school without any consultation with the community at all. You may presume that the community wants it. You may even presume that the community needs it. But no one ever talked to the community about it.

Here's our concern: the District puts this S.T.E.M. label on the school, but what does that mean? It turns out that it doesn't mean anything yet. There are no classes or opportunities that can be at Cleveland as a S.T.E.M. school that couldn't be there without the label. Cleveland will offer the same math classes that all of the other schools offer - no different ones. Cleveland will offer the same science classes that the other schools offer - no different ones. That's the consequence of an aligned curriculum. Cleveland students will take the same language arts and social studies classes as students in other schools. The difference between Cleveland as it is now and Cleveland as a S.T.E.M. school may not be notable - it may not even be noticable.

Here's our concern: the District hasn't allowed themselves enough time to properly develop the program before they have to launch it. They will, once again, fail to deliver on promises that no one asked them to make.

Here's our concern: the District is working to create new programs that no one wants but will not duplicate popular programs with waitlists (TOPS, Salmon Bay, Thornton Creek, Garfield, Roosevelt, JSIS, etc.).

seattle citizen said...

"...the hardest thing will be to have the right leadership and teaching talent in place. When I say "right" I mean people with entrepreneurial spirit who are willing to learn/try new things and put children first."

Soo..."entrepreneurial" staff:
Meaning what, exactly? They're experimental? Alternative? Go-getters?

Might we assume that many staff members currently employed in schools around the district are willing to try new things and put children first?

The first part of your statement needs definition. The second part seems insulting to the thousands of staff members around the district who are already trying new things (MAP, inclusion, performance management, common curricula etc et al) and CERTAINLY "put children first."

adhoc said...
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adhoc said...

Seattle Citizen we all know that the overwhelming majority of teachers and principals in SPS do a wonderful job and do "put the children first".

And we also know that some don't.

What Trish said is not insulting, it's a fact.

seattle citizen said...

adhoc,what I meant is what is it, exactly, that distinguishes these "entreprenurial...open to new things...child-first" staff members from other staff? Isn't that what we hope we have in every school?

I'm just confused about how, exactly, one hires for that. Aren't these things what are expected of any staff member when applying/interviewing?

I guess it probably wasn't intended as an insult, but as stated it reads that these qualities are somehow special, and thus reads that other staffs don't have them...

I think the leadership piece is key: most professionals can be led to the direction a leader wants, the building culture and emphasis can be directed. But this can happen with staff in any building (assuming they are up to par, and the same goes for Cleveland)

I wonder if Cleveland, as a new program, is still part of SE Initiative, which had certain, "special" considerations built into it's hiring: Staff were told that there would be increased work added to day-to-day contracted stuff. This would be, I believe, home visits and more meetings for collaboration and direction. They HAD to accept this, or they were displaced (not fired, but lost their Cleveland/Aki/Beach jobs and would need to be placed elsewhere) In accepting this contractual addendum, one other contracted employees didn't have the opporunity to engage in, they recieved $5000 more, or 10,000 if they were Nat'l Board certified.

A clause like this might give a school some leverage in hiring, if it were tailored ("Must be entrepenurial...open to new stuff...child-centered...") but it would be an aberration from union contract...
hmm, indeed

LouiseM said...

OK Seattle Citizen,you just like to work my nerves sometimes.

I'm not trying to insult anyone. If you knew me, you'd know that I'm very direct and there would be absolutely no mistake if I were trying to be insulting.

What I was merely trying to say is it takes a different type of staff effort (and type of people) to do the work of starting a school. You absolutely cannot work with principals who are administrative cogs and you cannot work with teachers who need to be told what to do every step of the way and will only stick with what they already know. And every single adult in the school community needs to be on the same page.

If you look at any small schools research around the country it is very clear what type of team you need to have to successfully launch a school that has a culture of achievement and a clearly articulated and intentional mission.

Now, you can pick at that if you want to, but there is lots of research to back my statement up.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And that is exactly my point in this post, Trish. Not that a STEM school isn't a good idea. But that over in Eastern Washington, it looks like they took some time, got partners lined up, got input and I think Delta High looks great. You don't just get a great school with the same team already in place. That's my worry. But the district isn't really asking for advice or support so I guess they are on own.

dan dempsey said...

Delta looks Great NOT..NOT..NOT

If STEM stands for anything having to do with mathematics ... Delta planning is a total flop.

Delta plans to use
Core-Plus for high school math perhaps the most non-college math program available during the last 15 years.

Again IMP and Core-Plus are likely tied for the worst possible math preparation for a technical collegiate program.

Cleveland will likely use "Discovering" another incredibly poor choice for collegiate math or engineering.

Who plans these programs, which are based on well-known failures?

Director DeBell in talking about STEM said there is a lot of interest in math. This district has nothing available for entering freshman below "Discovering Algebra" at the high school level.
About 25% of 8th graders are unable to score above level 1 on the math WASL and the district has nothing for them in high school other than wishful thinking.

Little wonder the district is considering lowering the graduation GPA to 1.0 as there is little interest in either following board policies that require effective interventions or really making the effort to educate children by using instructional materials and approaches that have an increased chance of success.

Do NOT drop out kids ...
because we want that FTE money ...
We do not plan to educate some of you but we do want that FTE money so please do not drop out.

Read Project Follow Through and John Hattie's Visible Learning ....for a guide to how confused these SPS leaders are.

Bird said...

I gave a quick perusal to the TAF document Trish mentioned.

While I respect TAF's efforts to recruit ans support students who don't normally go into technical professions, I have to say I don't see a lot in there that would get me excited about sending my kid to the school's STEM program.

What I'd hope for a school calling itself a specialized math and science school is substantially more math and science courses offered, including substantially more rigorous math and science.

Clearly TAF's just getting off the ground, and they've chosen a small school model that might help in supporting the students that they are especially focused on, but their small size probably undercuts any possibility of offering more or more substantially rigorous courses.
It looks like the course work offered is not more substantial, at least not in the number courses offered. It does arrange for interships, so that's a plus. It uses a project based focus in the science courses, which is different, but if I were sending my kid to a STEM school I'd also want plenty of extra traditional sciences courses as well.

I would hope that a STEM school would be more like the NY city science schools, like Brooklyn Technical High School.

Wikipedia lists some of the course work for Brooklyn Tech...

"The core science courses chosen are typically biology, chemistry, and physics; ... In the life sciences, the students have the additional option of taking a special "double honors" biology course, which features extra laboratory exposure. Science electives include microbiology, physiology, forensic science, human genetics, evolution, astronomy, organic chemistry, electronics and others.

In mathematics, beyond the standard AP courses in AB/BC calculus and statistics, courses in multivariable calculus and computer science (including AP Computer Science) are among the choices. A course in linear algebra and differential equations was offered for the first time in fall 2007."

Brooklyn Tech offers "majors" in
Aerospace Engineering, Architectural Engineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Sciences, Chemistry, Civil Engineering,Computer Science Technology, Electromechanical Engineering, Environmental Science: S, Industrial Design.

Obviously, such a school has to be not only large, but have a large number of highly motivated students. All the same, can you imagine having access to this sort of education in a public high school? Such a school would be in high demand, but I have a hard time seeing SPS building anything even a tenth as substantial.

I suspect the Cleveland STEM will just use the same curriculum and materials as the rest of the district. Someone correct me if I'm wrong (since I didn't closely follow its developments), but wasn't Jane Adams supposed to have a math and science focus, but when people pushed to find out what that meant, it turned out it was pretty empty. (Wasn't it just a few more minutes a day of the same crappy math program the district uses as a whole?)

Trish, does TAF teach math using the same materials and curriculum as the Federal Way District? In what way would taking math at TAF be different from taking math at another Federal Way school?

Also, is TAF intereted in coming back and trying to start a school in Seattle? I see you plan to expand, but as I remember it previous plans for an RBHS presence were scuttled by community push back, inflamed if I remember correctly, by --surprise, surprise-- SPS's lack of community engagement early on in the process.

reader said...

Seattle Citizen,

You seem to be of the mind that all (or nearly all) SPS staff is great, everything is great... but somehow, the schools just fail all sorts of kids... for no reason. Oh yeah. It's the standardization or some other lame thing. I bet the notion that SPS staff is great and can do anything comes from the your experience. That is, experience with good to great staff that work effectively with your own kids. Maybe your kids are typical, nice liberal Seattle kids, with a reasonably funded home... the ones any SPS staff can deal with. You might notice that 1 or 2 kids that don't do well in your kid's class... but "oh well, nobody's perfect" So, to you, SPS staff is perfectly fine, but just part of an imperfect system. (That seems to be your claim.) You might not see that "failing a few kids" is the EXPECTED norm by lots of SPS staff. But since it isn't your kids, you don't see that teaching as being a problem, if not the problem.

On the other hand, Cleveland high school with a huge FRL population, that has around 20% disabled students... well that's another matter isn't it? So, this school is FULL of students that status quo teachers don't want to teach.. and routinely don't teach. And at that's the point... the failure of staff expectation to reach ALL the students really stands out... and requires a different sort of teacher and staff motivation than your run of the mill staff.

adhoc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adhoc said...

Oh my gosh, I might just be packing my bags and moving back to my hometown, Brooklyn! Brooklyn Tech shows the heights that public education can reach! Of course you do have to test in, so the school gets the cream of the crop, so to speak, which is very different than TAF, which recruits and supports at risk and struggling students - very honorable and just as necessary as what Brooklyn Tech is doing.

Now back to SPS, and STEM. I love the idea of a STEM school, especially in the south end. But I don't think the school will be dynamic, or even anything special. Look at the new Jane Addams K-8 Environmental science and math school. For math they are using the same district curriculum, and teaching it at the same pace, as the rest of the district. But they have 10 minutes extra per day for computational time. Voila we have a math focus school. As for science the school uses the same NSF science kits that every other school in the district uses. Ho hum. They add a camping trip once a year to support their "outdoor/environmental" focus. Excuse me while I yawn. Then in 6th grade (and only in 6th grade) students get to choose between either band or an environmental science focused elective. That's it folks. That's Seattle's version of a science and math magnet. It's sad. Worse, it's a sham.

My concern for STEM at Cleveland is that it will be another poorly thought out, quickly thrown together, visionless mess. Another sham. If the district is going to try a STEM school then I wish they would go all out and do it right. Create something truly dynamic and cutting edge. Maybe even involve the community!! Believe me if Brooklyn Tech were at Cleveland families from all over this city would be breaking the door down to get in, and demanding more. The location wouldn't matter one single bit.

But SPS won't do that. They will add a couple of science electives, and call it a STEM school, and expect all of the little sheep to blindly flock to it.

adhoc said...

"I'm just confused about how, exactly, one hires for that. Aren't these things what are expected of any staff member when applying/interviewing?"

Yes, Seattle Citizen it is what we should expect of any staff member, but as you and I both know it isn't always what we get.

Principals are human. Some are great leaders and self starters (entrepreneurial) and some are not. Some work hard to create a fantastic school and some just just don't have the skills or the vision or the drive to make it happen. Some just want a paycheck. Same for teachers. The majority of teachers my kids have had were so great, they actually humbled me. But we have had a handful of awful ones too. Like the science teacher that gave the kids an assignment, then sat at his desk and played solitaire all period while kids texted, fell asleep, and horsed around.

We all know that in reality there is a range of quality when it comes to our teachers and leaders. Trish wants the best - can you blame her????

ParentofThree said...

Was poking around the Avaition HS web site as that is also a STEm school. I do think they are using Key Press Cirriculum, although they do offer Trig as a one year course.

Note this grading scale for Alg. I

grading scale:

A = 90% and above
B = 80 -90
C = 70 -80
F = less than 70%

Wow, 69% is an F.

Betting that school sees an increase in enrollment shortly!

Maureen said...

I'm fantasizing about a STEM school where a substantial percentage of the kids enter ready to take Algebra II or PreCalc, and take math every year, so they can take Calculus based Physics when they are seniors. A school where a chunk of junior year is spent in internships with Tech companies* that allow the kids to earn academic credit and then get paying summer positions...Do you all think I'm crazy to hope?

(*SBRI, Zymo, Fred Hutch, UW, software co.s, green energy startups....)

Melissa Westbrook said...

Maureen, look at Delta High - they discuss internships, etc.

LouiseM said...

I’m going to address “Bird’s” comments and questions because I suspect others may have the same.

While I respect TAF's efforts to recruit and support students who don't normally go into technical professions, I have to say I don't see a lot in there that would get me excited about sending my kid to the school's STEM program.

TAF has just started. We will grow into a 6th-12th grade school and this year we’re only 16th-10th. I’m not sure how you can tell the level of rigor we offer without actually coming to the school to see for yourself.

What I'd hope for a school calling itself a specialized math and science school is substantially more math and science courses offered, including substantially more rigorous math and science.

I think you can look at a list of any school’s offerings and be impressed by the title of the courses, but being in the classroom to see how they are delivered is where the rubber meets the road. At TAF our academic framework is project based learning (PBL) and authentic intellectual work (AIW). Together PBL and AIW, if done correctly, bring a lot of rigor to an “ordinary” course. It’s about understanding the fundamentals and applying them in authentic ways that make a difference beyond the four walls of school. That said, we’ll add courses over time and as we start to see our 6th graders matriculate to high school, the offerings will change because they will come into high school with a totally different set of skills than the 9th graders we had last year.

I would hope that a STEM school would be more like the NY city science schools, like Brooklyn Technical High School.

There are so many versions of a STEM school it’s not even funny. And it should stay that way because STEM is always evolving. I was having this discussion with our Director of Education yesterday as we were grappling with how deep we want to go into just the E (engineering) alone.

Obviously, such a school has to be not only large, but have a large number of highly motivated students. All the same, can you imagine having access to this sort of education in a public high school?

You’re right, if you want that kind of variety, you need a larger student body. That said, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a solid STEM education in a small school. The small school program has to be focused and intentional and ensure you either get a really broad, yet developed view of STEM or do a deep dive into a particular STEM field.

One size does not fit all and we’re happy to provide an alternative for students. That’s what Federal Way Public Schools saw in the opportunity because they understand that students have different needs. We have students come in with scores all over the map. Some enrolled because they wanted to and others enrolled because their parents said they had to. By mid first year, they were all motivated to do their best and take full ownership of their school and education.

Trish, does TAF teach math using the same materials and curriculum as the Federal Way District? In what way would taking math at TAF be different from taking math at another Federal Way school?

We use a variety of materials. We use the FWPS higher level math books as well as some online tools. Our teachers also use various texts out there that help them get points across in a way that works for the students.

In what way are we different in math? I’d expand that and say our overall instruction for every subject is different from traditional education models in general (it doesn’t matter if it’s FWPS, Seattle, or Houston--traditional is traditional). The way we designed our framework, do formative assessments and modify instruction, setup the classrooms for maximum student participation… It’s too long to explain in a forum like this. It’s easier to talk about it and see it for yourself.

Also, is TAF interested in coming back and trying to start a school in Seattle?

We certainly would like to be in Seattle some day, and I suspect we will.

seattle citizen said...

You write that for a successful (small...new...innovative...)school "You absolutely cannot work with principals who are administrative cogs and you cannot work with teachers who need to be told what to do every step of the way and will only stick with what they already know. And every single adult in the school community needs to be on the same page."

We have some of these, they're called alternative schools. We even have a policy that says what you say above, and more: Alternative Policy C56.00.
Look particulalry at the Alt Committee Report that came out after that, based on that, that has in it a checklist of what makes and alt, twelve points.

We have a system in place already: Policy to request a new program, and an existing framework to have a fine alt program (or stem, or really all sorts of things)

The question (not for you; I appreciate what you bhring to schools) is why we are closing and consolidating alternative schools (not re-entry, credit retrieval schools, those are another animal)?

We should be growing and encouraging thse schools, schools that have prinipals chosen for their commitment to that special program, teachers and staff on board, parent/community supportive...

I appreciate what you've done with TAF, it's amazing, but we already have a way to build similar schools (STEM might be considered this, in the district policy framework, but needs community buy-in and participation). We here in Seattle need to get with it and get out there.

seattle citizen said...

No Reader, I don't think ALL teachers or principals are "great", of course not!

(btw, you have absolutely no idea of my experience regarding education, so could you try to avoid the sort of "you must be..." hypotheticals? You are dead wrong, opposite, in fact, in most of your oncjecture about me..Shall I conjecture about you? I won't)

Of course there's many types of educators. Some suck. But your blanket statement that educators are "failing our children" is just more hot air. Many, most here, I'd posit, have had a good experience with their children in public schools. My experience tells me that this is often true for lots of others, of all walks of life, in schools. They've had some "bad" teachers, yes, just as some teachers have had some "bad" students and some parents are "bad" but the vast majority of edcuators do at least a middling job, given the daunting challenges many face, while many excel.

I recognize that Trish advocates a certain quality of teacher/principal/parent...I'm just suggesting that there are many of these people already engaged in education, and it's hard to swallow the idea that a school becomes "super-special" because it's got a hand-picked staff, as many other educators would have similar qualities.

Luckily, not all educators are the same: they bring a diverse tool-kit. Even if a teacher isn't "with the program" coming in, many if not most can and will adapt (heck, they adapt to new stuff every freakin' year as dictates and expectations change with the wind...)

reader said...

Well SC, I'll not speculate on you, tempting though it may be. It's just that we might agree: sure, there are lots of educators who are great for 80% of the kids... And then, it's easy to say... hey these educators are doing "at least a middling job", let's not insult them. But really, they're NOT doing a middling job for the 20%. In fact, most of those teachers are actually doing a real, live BAD JOB... if you happen to fall outside the 80%. And, why would you want to start a school with a bunch of teachers geared for the 80%... when you really need them to do a great job for the other 20%? You really need them to reach out, to where the students actually are, and start from there. It isn't an 80%-middling-good-job type of proposal.

seattle citizen said...

Well, reader, I hear what you're saying. Twenty percent might not learn from a particular teacher. "They" (the teacher) might not be able to teach that student, for any number of reasons, including teacher craptitude.

Some students won't learn in any given teacher's classroom.

BUt yes, of COURSE we'd like to have that "100%" learing rate, and having great teachers in every classroom would get us nearer. But how realistic is that, particularly given the varibale in the students? A great teacher for one student sucks for another. While a good teacher can address a variety of learning styles, needs, etc, and THIS is what you want in a "great teacher," among other things, I think it would be very difficult to attain. Look at any group of people: some strive in some ways, some in others, some none a'tall. Look at business, look at govenrment, look at anything...there's always some lagging, whether it be laziness or whatever or being tired a particular day, or exhausted by constant badgering to do this, no that...

The current euphamism "good teacher" seems to be "young and fresh"...perhaps a new teacher IS full of energy and willing to "get with the program." Perhaps "older, staler" teachers are, well, older (slower!) and maybe a bit less willing to jump when some fearless, visionary, entrepenurial leader says "jump!"

Whichever, I think one would always find staff members who are not able to "teach to %100 of students, whatever that means, exactly.

seattle citizen said...

Oh, and to keep 'em young and fresh, don't forget to fire 'em before they get to say, five years in the profession. Hey, about half don't last five years, anyway, so it should be easy....

adhoc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adhoc said...

SC, I don't think age has anything to do with the quality of a teacher, and I don't know why you keep bringing that up? I don't see anywhere that Reader implied young teachers were better.

Some of my kids best, and favorite, teachers were older. In fact their two "best" teachers were, I'd guess between 55-60 years old, and had been teaching for 20+ years. By the same token they have had some great young teachers that were fantastic and very inspiring, and really "got" kids.

I don't see the correlation between age and the quality of a teacher. At all.

In fact one of my sons worst teachers was a very young, energetic, second year teacher. She was as nice as she could be but that could not make up for her lack of experience, her immaturity, lack of classroom management skills, and a huge learning curve. That year was a complete waste, academically, for my son. That teacher should have been an intern for another year or two.

We all know that there are some good teachers, some bad teachers, and some inexperienced teachers...of all ages. Personally, we have been lucky - the majority of my kids teachers have ranged from being good to absolutely awe inspiring. Some were so fantastic that they humbled me. The kind of teachers whose eyes sparkled just talking about their students.

Over the course of 10 years, and with two kids, we have only had a couple of teachers that have been what I would consider "bad" or to inexperienced to be effective.

I don't blame Trish for screening, and double screening, and striving for teachers at the top of their game. It's what our kids deserve.

reader said...

SC your teacher equity or middle-of-the-road position is: "oh yeah, everybody values something different... so a great teacher for 1 kid isn't good another. Oh well, there's nothing we can do about that."

But the real issue about teachers NOT teaching the 20% is that it's always the same 20% being left out. I'm not talking about... my little Johnny didn't get along with Ms. Suzie...I'm talking about the fact that teachers consistently fail whole groups, and then we should actually stand up and say "those are bad teachers for that 20% of the student population. We can and must do better". In that case, you need to go outside the middle-of-the-road, good for most people most of the time sort of teachers.

Indeed. I'm saying nothing about age. There's always a tradeoff... experience vs energy, and both figure into the teacher quality equation. There's also will, aptitude, intelligence... and lots of other qualities not strictly associated with age.

seattle citizen said...

Reader, yes, I apologise for bringing up age. No one in this thread said anything about it. But there HAS been lots of rhetoric lately about how we need fresh, not--burned-out teachers, read "young" or "new", and there is the obvious cost factor: Newer teachers are half the price of older teachers. Also, newer teachers might be willing to work for far less.

About that 20%...You write that:
"teachers consistently fail whole groups, and then we should actually stand up and say "those are bad teachers for that 20% of the student population. We can and must do better". In that case, you need to go outside the middle-of-the-road, good for most people most of the time sort of teachers."

What do you mean? I'm curious (and not being snide) Are you sure it's the teachers failing whole groups? ALL that group's teachers? I don't really get it.
Yes, whole "groups" (if by this you mean arbitrary demographic groups - the best, or most reliable, being F/RL, as poor is poor, but "Asian" isn't necessarily 100% "Asian") whole groups are statistically lower performing than some other students. But does this mean that ALL teachers are failing to teach these students?
I'm trying to parse this out. If these groups are failing, generally, does this mean ALL their teachers aren't able to teach them?
To me, it speaks more to circumstance and external factors - poverty, lack of political savvy and engagement on the part of parents or guardians (no disrespect intended), generational disconnection to education, lack of books in the home, lack of other enrichment opportunities...
If a whole "group" is failing EVERYTHING, does this mean ALL the teachers are failing to educate these students or does it mean the students aren't able to learn at the given level, and have perhaps been socially promoted?
Please explain.

brown206 said...

Back to Cleveland for a moment:
Whether the district initiated STEM in a good or bad way, the project can, with support, create what many parents in the South End have wanted for years: a high school program that could launch its students toward access to power. If the community supports it, the district is more likely to follow through on its commitments. I am struck by the readiness of many posters on this blog to dismiss the chances of the program succeeding at Cleveland. If it were slated to be housed at Lincoln, I suspect the arguments would be more about who could get in, and how, then whether or not there is community demand for a STEM program. Charlie suggested the Lincoln move himself, after an earlier post lambasting the district for not surveying the Cleveland community to see if they wanted STEM. I notice he did not propose a methodology for surveying the Lincoln community.

reader said...

I can only tell you what I see. And that is teachers do not want to go outside their comfort level or their idea of their job. They do not want to reach down to where struggling students are and figure out what it takes to teach them. Actually, they simply don't think that's their job. No it isn't ALL teachers, but it is a substantial amount, the norm. WHy do experienced teachers leave the "tough schools" overwhelmingly? They don't relish the challenge. Or they don't think that's the job they're supposed to be doing... they think they're getting a better job over at Laurelhurst (or somewhere similar)... where everyone walks in the door at the right "level". Then they can do "their real job". Since these students aren't the majority of the student population, these teachers aren't really considered "ineffective". But, in fact they are ineffective.. at least for that group. If you're targeting a challenge, like STEM is, you need people who can actually do that job. And that job includes making up for all those inequities... it is a huge challenge, and not everybody can do it. Yes, people always blame the studuents, aka "social promotion", but that really isn't the problem. We don't want 12 yo's in kindergarten classrooms... or 18 yo's in 5th grade, everyone deserves an age matched classroom. Furthermore, if students fall behind, it suggests an ineffective and intransigence that isn't going to be fixed by more years or "more of the same".

reader said...

Great points Brown! You're exactly right... something obviously beneficial like a STEM should not require tons and tons of "OK" from the community. To me, the bigger issue is are they really going to do what it takes to make it real for all the residents in the southeast? Given the bumbling record of the district... it is hard to fathom you must admit. I think they really do need something like STEM that targets the current Cleveland students... so much has been said about "attracting back" certain families. Why not serve the ones who are there already in the best way we can?

adhoc said...

Brown 206 you might want to examine what happened at Jane Addams K-8 as an example of what could happen at Cleveland. It's not that there is not community support for an environmental science and math magnet school in the north. It's the implementation of the school/program that was the problem. The district rushed the creation of the school, and has done almost nothing to make it a science and math magnet. The schools uses EDM and CMP for math like every other school, and NSF science kits for science, like every other school. Their students get 10 extra minutes for math, a field trip once a year, and a science elective in 6th grade (if they choose it). Nothing fantastic, dynamic or even unique about this program. It's an environmental science and math magnet in name only. No substance behind it.

I fear that is what will happen to STEM at Cleveland, but I do truly hope I'm wrong.

goeagles said...

I've had some involvement with the work on STEM at Cleveland. Here is what I would share about that work:

*The design teams at the building and district level for this project have been carefully considering many of the issues raised here, and a few others as well. Internships, higher ed. partnerships, and industry partnerships are all on the radar. The design teams have already sought out wisdom and experience from STEM folks in higher education, as well as some in industry. More planning work with STEM field experts is coming up soon.

*As to parent and family engagement, I think most would agree this could have been done better in the establishment of the program. That said, two meetings have taken place with local and Cleveland parents, and meetings are planned for around the district (south, central, north, and west clusters) to share the current state of the design. Local parents have gathered with building and district staff to ask questions and share ideas about what STEM is or could be.

*The program model that the design team has been considering is project-based learning. This model will likely be based on one used by a national network of schools which has been dedicated to supporting and refining this curricular approach for many years. High Tech High and New Technology High School, both in California, would be examples of this model. At these schools, students experience the rigor and relevance of doing challenging work for real-world audiences, while developing their skills in collaboration, planning, inquiry, and presentation. STEM is not just about content knowledge--though rich and robust content is integral to a STEM program. STEM is about developing a skill set and a stance toward learning and working with others that is reflective, problem-solving, and adaptive.

*Last note: there are absolutely a number of ways this project could be done badly. To skeptics, however, I would say this: standing by and snidely speculating about the failure of a school that serves our neediest students is beneath the spirit of community concern for all children that this blog, at its best, represents. I thought that Melissa's point in the post was supposed to be how little the broader community knows, at this time, about what STEM will look like at Cleveland. But apparently many people feel that they know enough to dismiss any chance of its success. Like Trish and a few other commenters, I think this is troubling.

anonymous said...

Go eagles, thanks for your insight and for sharing so much information about the progress on the STEM school. It sounds like a lot of thought and hard work is going into the creation of the new school.

I hate that you think I am "standing by and snidely speculating" though. I guess I'm sensitive and skeptical because of what happened at Jane Addams. I live across the street from the school and had high hopes for it. I actively participated in all of the community meetings, gave input to the design team, and had a seat on the schools BLT. The effort of the principal and staff was tremendous, genuine, and it was commendable. The principal worked long hours and well into the night at home. She did not have the support she needed, and the job was rushed. A brand new K-8 had to be created in 12 weeks, over the summer, and be up and running by the fall. Staff was so overwhelmed with getting teachers hired, supplies and furniture ordered, classrooms set up, and all of the other details necessary to just get a school up and running in 12 weeks, that the vision and focus for the environmental science and math theme fell to the wayside. The district did not provide the time or support necessary to build a truly great program. And the community felt it, only 20% of the families that were assigned to the school listed it as their first choice. This in a cluster where every full was over capacity. So forgive me if I'm a bit jaded, and do not trust the district, but I'm a bit burned out right now.

SolvayGirl said...

goeagles...that this is all happening is a very good thing. But how come this is the first many of us are hearing about it? I know a number of families at Mercer Middle School, and they haven't said anything about being approached. Wouldn't these 8th graders be exactly the people the District should be talking to? I hope the school does some outreach to the southend soon.

You will have to pardon many of us for our skepticism, As adhoc says, too often big plans fall apart. It sounds as if you and the people working on this program are serious and have a handle on it. I look forward to hearing more about it.

anonymous said...

Honestly, what Solvaygirl says is true. Why do we have to hear about what is happening at STEM from an anonymous poster on a blog? Why isn't the district providing this information to the public?

Instead of "standing by idly" let me give you a few suggestions for the design team:

Have Cheryl Chow hold a community meeting where she fills the community in on the progress happening at STEM. At that meeting she could gather community feedback, ask families for their, ideas, and needs. And she could hand out a questionaire with 3 questions, and them collect them at the end of the meeting
1) does this concept (STEM) interest you?
2) Would you consider sending your child here?
3) If not, what would we have to do/offer to get you to send your child here?

Post the design team progress and meeting minutes on the Cleveland website, so interested families who don't have time to attend meetings can keep up with what's happening.

Have a way for parents to give input online, either on the Cleveland website, or on the SPS website. Have a point of contact person, that families could call to speak with a live person and ask questions, give input. Then be sure that the input collected gets to the design team, BLT or whoever else is directly responsible for getting the program up and running.

Have a speaker from a successful STEM school come to Cleveland and give a presentation. Invite the whole community. Share the vision. Get families inspired and excited about the possibilities.

Invite parents to Cleveland one evening to attend a "mini" class, taught in the project based learning style, so they can know first hand what it looks like, what it feels like, and what to expect for their children.

Have a college admissions director or job councilor come out and speak to families about post graduation opportunities for STEM students. Let them know that "science and engineering jobs are growing 70 percent faster than other occupations. And that STEM School students will be at an advantage when competing for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future."

Hire a marketing rep if you have to. Get the word out to the community that SPS is taking STEM at Cleveland very seriously. Make sure the community knows that it is not STEM in name alone, and that there will be substance, and rigor, and opportunity for all.

anonymous said...

Oh, and one more important thing. Have Cleveland STEM representatives visit SPS middle schools (just like colleges visit high schools to recruit and attract students). They could go during the day and speak to 8th graders (during an assembly?), and they could also have evening meetings and invite potential families of 8th graders, to hear a presentation on STEM at Cleveland.

In other words go get em, go out in the community. Make STEM come alive, instead of sitting in closed door meetings.

Bird said...

Thanks for posting goeagles.

I think there is a lot of interest in hearing more about the STEM project.

Is there a website where we can follow the progress of your work and stay apprised of opportunities to get information and give input?

I can find very little information addressed to families on the SPS website.

I do see some slides...

http://www.seattleschools.org /area/board/09-10agendas /091609agenda/stemupdate.pdf

...which seem to indicate that most of the fundamental planning and decisions will be have already been made before substantial community involvement. It's hard to know if that's accurate from this scant information, but it does, from your post, sound like you have largely settled on the fundamental details of the program. Is this true?

How much of your program model comes from the interests and demands of SPS families? How much came from surveying families who currently do not enroll their children in their local SPS high school? Did families say they wanted a largely project based approach for the school, or is that something the planning committee developed on their own before family engagement?

My feeling is that the STEM will have to obviously prove something in high demand for SPS families, something more than the name "STEM". As an option school, no matter how good your program is, if no one chooses it, it won't succeed. SPS is asking families to take a big risk in enrolling in a new untested program, and I think families will need to see something obviously distinctive and desirable to take that risk.

Maybe internships is the golden ticket, maybe it's something else.
What do you think will be the main draw into the program and why?

It is troubling that parents have such serious doubts about the ability of SPS to succeed in developing a new program. I'm sure you understand, however, that this skepticism is a result of real and recent failures in the district -- particularly in establishing programs with fancy names and little substance. This coupled with the very limited amount of information as yet directed towards parents will inevitably lead to some jaundiced speculation.

Rather than dismissing this as lacking a "spirit of community concern", you should take any sourly, skeptical speculations on this blog very seriously. Likely, they represent doubts found in the wider community as well, and over-coming these doubts will be one of the most fundamental aspects of jump-starting this program.

goeagles said...

Thanks for thoughtful responses, all. I agree, some skepticism about district planning and implementation of new programs is merited, based on past experience. I think what troubled me more were the posts where the skepticism seems focused on Cleveland and its students and families. I don't believe that Ballard's Biotech Academy, say, went through a grueling vetting by the community (correct me if I'm wrong). I don't think it's problematic to assume that Cleveland families would like a rigorous, engaging, college-ready curricular program for their students. I don't have to survey them to know that--they've been telling us for years.

Adhoc, thanks for the great ideas for community engagement. Many are in progress right now, but a few are new. I will take them back to the team. I agree that more info should have been shared in more formats (part of why I posted in the first place), but truly, a website, community meetings, and other kinds of communication should be coming very soon.

hschinske said...

The biotech program was just one part of rebuilding Ballard's reputation along with its new building. There was a lot of community support for BHS all the way around, including specific, overt support from the scientific community (such as the $25,000 grant from Immunex). See http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19990817&slug=2977764 for details.

Helen Schinske

anonymous said...

Goeagles, Biotech is not all encompassing at Ballard - it is just one small academy within a much larger school - it is limited to 32 students per grade. Further, offering a small Biotech academy did not interfere with the school being a neighborhood school, nor did it cause them to switch from a traditional model of teaching to a project based model. You are comparing apples to oranges here.

Cleveland will be a STEM school entirely. Further, it will no longer be a neighborhood school, it will be an all city draw option school. Even further it has changed from a more traditional model of teaching to a project based model. These are huge changes, and affect the entire school community as well as the surrounding neighborhood families.

You better believe if the Ballard Community were losing their neighborhood HS to be an all city draw, option, STEM school, with project based learning, they would demand a whole lot more voice and transparency in the process than a few of us here on this blog are asking for.