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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Cleveland STEM meeting

I attended the Cleveland STEM Community Meeting on December 4 with my wife and 8th grade daughter.

First, the important parts.

My daughter is excited about the program. To her it looks like a good mix of the academic challenge of Garfield with the more personalized instruction (and project-based learning) of NOVA. She got most excited when she saw a list of the possible classes in the Global Health Academy.

My wife and I are much more confident about the probability that the program will actually be there and that it will be something like what has been advertised.

There was a pretty good crowd of people there - I'd say about forty to fifty (not counting staff).

The folks from Cleveland who were there are excited about the program and have a very clear picture of the idea - the project-based learning, the integration of technology, the alignment between classes, the extended school day and accelerated schedule, etc.

The STEM program looks real and, to us, it looks good. They still have some things to work out. The schedule is inspired, but needs some tinkering. They haven't figured out how to get the student:computer ratio to the promised 1:1. They are still missing a lot of the curricular elements - they haven't found the puzzle pieces but they know what they have to look like.

A lot of the commitment and money is already there. Thanks to the Southeast Initiative, the teachers are all taking a stipend in exchange for the extended day and required professional development. So there shouldn't be any hold-outs among the teachers resisting the integrated curriculum or the project-based instruction.

Cleveland, because it will be focusing on some things, is going to have to let some other things go. The school will have arts and music, but it will not be a full blown arts program or music program. The CTE classes will probably all be within the context of the academy focus, so there will be a narrower range there as well. There will be world languages (because the school is committed to graduating each student with the entrance requirements for a four-year university), but don't expect a broad range of electives.

Here are the big differences that they are planning for Cleveland:

1. STEM focus. Every student now in the 9th grade there, and every student entering the school will be part of the STEM program. After the current 10th and 11th graders graduate the whole school will be STEM. The STEM program will be split into two academies: The School of Life Sciences and The School of Engineering and Design. Students choose one academy or the other upon entering the school. All students, as freshmen, will be required to take a survey course in both disciplines so they get a taste of the other side and possibly reconsider their choice of academy.

2. Project-based learning. They are really committed to the project-based learning thing. They saw examples of it and they were deeply impressed. Project-based learning will make the math classes more effective, will teach the students additional skills, and will facilitate differentiation within the classes.

3. Every student will graduate from Cleveland with the credits and classes needed to gain entry to a four-year university. They will all have at least four years of math through calculus (or further). They will all have four years of science including lab sciences. They will all have four years of language arts. They will all have at least two years of a world language. Yes, Cleveland's graduation requirements will be different from the graduation requirements of other Seattle public high schools. How will they be able to achieve this?

4. Extended and accelerated schedule. Cleveland's school day will run an hour longer than other Seattle public high schools. The plan is to have four 100-minute classes in lieu of the standard six 50-minute classes. Or, there could be three 100-minute classes and two 50-minute classes - it has not yet been worked out to the final detail. Since the classes are twice as long, students will be able to earn a whole year's worth of credit in one semester. A student entering any other Seattle high school and taking four years of the standard math courses would get Algebra in grade 9, Geometry in grade 10, Advanced Algebra in grade 11 and Pre-calculus in grade 12. They would not reach Calculus. Of course, a number of students take advanced classes in middle school so they arrive at high school ready to take Geometry or even Advanced Algebra. Then again, there are a lot of students who arrive at high school ill-prepared to take Algebra. At Cleveland, students who arrive without adequate math skills for Algebra will take Algebra in a 100-minute class for the first semester, completing the course in that time. In the second semester they will take a 100-minute course called Algebra Lab to more solidly establish their knowledge of the content. Then, in grade 10, they will take Geometry in a 100-minute class and complete the course in one semester. In the second semester of grade 10 they can take Advanced Algebra. In grades 11 and 12 they can take Pre-Calculus and Calculus and, if they wish, additional math classes. In this way, students who are not on pace to reach Calculus in grade 12 will be accelerated to that pace. Students who are on pace can either stay at pace or accelerate beyond.

5. The downside of the extended schedule. Typical freshmen entering Cleveland will not have a lot of choices to make with their schedule. For their first year they might have no room in their schedule for any classes but those that they are required to take. Their schedule might be a 100-minute block of Humanities (Language Arts and Social Studies) working at the normal pace in each of those disciplines, a 100-minute block of math (Algebra) completing a year of the class in one semester, a 100-minute block of science (Biology?) completing year of the class in one semester, and end with a 100-minute block of P.E.in the first quarter - completing a semester of work in one quarter, and and one of the survey classes in the second quarter. The second semester would look similar with Humanities, math, and science in three 100-minute blocks and a quarter of a survey class and a quarter of P.E. You will notice that there was no room in that schedule for electives. That freshman schedule is not final. There could be two 50-minute classes in there in place of one of those four 100-minute blocks. Students who arrive with advanced math preparation will have additional flexibility because they will only have to take a math block in one semester if they choose. Still, music isn't the sort of thing that you can take in the first and fourth quarter and not take in the second and third quarter. You really have to keep working at it all along. Because the school and the students are devoting so much time and resources to math and science classes that are elective at other schools, they will not have the time or resources for a full range of other potential electives. Even with an extra hour a day, there just isn't time.

The meeting itself was not well organized. It ran way over its stated time. After an introductory talk, we were split into groups for "discussion", but there was no discussion. It was not an opportunity for any real community engagement - more just Q and A. They weren't taking any meaningful input from the community. They actually seemed annoyed by questions and ill-prepared to answer them.

So. To wrap up. The program looks real - the STEM part is real, the project-based learning part is real, the ability to work with students of all levels of preparation is real. The people look committed. They have a lot of the elements in place. It looks like they will be able to complete the plan with plenty of time to spare. This does require some sacrifice - a longer school day, a commitment to take more classes and more advanced classes, and some compromise on the electives. For my daughter, who is interested in science, computers, art and French but not in music, who wants advanced classes but doesn't want to attend a factory school, who wants project-based learning but wants more structure than NOVA, it looks perfect. Also, it's right here in our neighborhood.

Here's something that I don't think people have considered. This STEM thing is going to totally change Cleveland. Right now, let's not kid ourselves, Cleveland is a school in deep trouble. The outcomes for Cleveland students are the worst in the district. Academic outcomes and behavior outcomes, without a doubt, are far and away the worst the district.

Cleveland average GPA: 2.59, lowest by far. District average: 2.95
Cleveland math WASL pass rate: 12.0%, lowest by FAR. District average: 55.9%
Cleveland reading WASL pass rate: 61.4%, lowest. District average: 83.8%
Cleveland writing WASL pass rate: 74.8%, lowest by far. District average: 88.8%
Cleveland science WASL pass rate: 6.9%, lowest. District average: 41.4%
Cleveland average SAT scores: lowest in all three categories
Cleveland annual dropouts: 12.1%, lowest by far. District average: 4.7%
Cleveland returning students: 59.1%, lowest. District average: 79.4%
Cleveland attendance: 74.0%, lowest. District average: 86.3%
Cleveland suspension rate: 29.2%, highest by far. District average 9.6%
Cleveland student survey response to "I feel safe at my school": 2.6, lowest. District average 3.0

All of a sudden, Cleveland is going to swap this under-achieving population for students who have intentionally chosen STEM, who have committed to a longer school day, who have committed to taking four years of math through at least calculus, and who have committed to four years of science. The demographics will be radically different. Right now, Cleveland is 53.3% African-American. There were only a few (non-staff) black faces at the community meeting, and they were nearly all African immigrants. Of course the population that has been attending Cleveland won't disappear. They will go to Rainier Beach or Franklin instead.

47 comments:

SE Mom said...

Charlie, thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed summary of the meeting. Glad to hear your family is feeling positive about the program.

The list of possible classes would be great to see - looked on the STEM website and could not locate that - anyway of getting those posted here or do you have a link to something I've missed on-line?

Also wondering if they had a list of art and music electives they are proposing.

zb said...

Well, this sounds promising, except for the warning signs about the "discussion" groups and a resistance to answering questions.

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

I'm so glad to hear the positive feedback about STEM!!! If I didn't live so far north I'd be very interested in Cleveland. My boys are both drawn to science and math, the two weakest subjects in this district. It's great to have a strong science/math magnet. If done well STEM will be a great compliment to SPS high schools!

At Hale, the HS my son attends, all freshmen and sophomores take longer block classes in SS, health, science and LA. Like STEM, Hale students earn a full credit in these subjects in just one semester instead of two semesters. This really does give kids a lot of flexibility!

I'm so glad that the south end will be getting a high quality school! It's about time.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks for the recap, Charlie. It sounds good.

I wouldn't worry about different graduation requirements for Cleveland; other high schools do it. How I don't know but the district certainly allows it. I think as long as they are clear about this going in (so people don't assume it is the same as what the district advertises as its graduation requirements), it's okay.

The computer money. Well, there's an awful lot of money in the BTA levy for Cleveland so I would assume there would be money. I know they are required for each student in Project Lead the Way's engineering program to have a computer so they must be using some of the BTA money for that.

Was there any mention of linkage to UW, Fred Hutch, etc? I know they haven't approached UW's Computer Science and Engineering department but it might be a good idea.

SP said...

It all sounds interesting, except a big word of caution for families considering a 4-period type day giving a full credit in one semester-

Blocked classes are sometimes great, depending on the type of class. It seems to work especially well for sciences with labs and other project-based classes. They also work well, for example in LA or history IF teachers are experienced in extended classes and can vary the lesson plan and fully use the 100 minute class bell-to-bell. In our experience, this is the exeception rather than the norm!

With a rolling-type blocked class schedule (like Garfield's) teachers plan for only one blocked class a week and can maximize the benefits of the longer time (ie for test taking and then introducing a new topic). BUT if these extended classes are every day, all week, the extended time is rarely used fully. Our experience is that a lot of time is poorly spent in class doing homework, "group discussion time" etc. and often, just free "study time" (no wonder kids love it!). Teachers also love it because they have more planning time (read less time teaching, which either costs the district more, or classes end up much larger to compensate which was the case in our district with WSHS).

Also, week-long blocked classes do NOT seem to work for classes such as math or world languages- after a certain amount of time, even the most engaged kids "zone out" and are saturated. It also is not effective for kids who are not enaged in the first place, or with a teacher who is not engaging the students. In any case, the last half of the class is then not effective and is totally wasted.

The other huge disadvantage, is when blocked classes are not arranged such that the class continues throughout the year (unlike Garfield's, which is really a 6-period day with some blocked classes, but one credit is earned over the full year). When one credit is earned in only one semester, this is a major draw-back of a 4-period type of day and has huge negative consequences.

First, your kid will only get that subject for half that long, and then be expected to start up at full speed? Can you imagine not having an LA or history class (especially if they are combined) with no writing for half a year or more? This happens in a 4-period type day (or any schedule with one credit/semester) and it is devastating for high school level students. The district realized this, and used this as one of the reasons they made West Seattle High School drop the 4-period day (they now have a rolling type blocked schedule, but with year-long classes/credits, a different version of Garfield's).

Finally, transfering in and out of schools with such a type of schedule is almost impossible, especially mid-year. Just ask any kid transfering in or out of WSHS when they had the 4-period day, and the incredible complications with transfering credits. This was also one of the major problems for the district and another one of the big reasons given to drop the 4-period day at WSHS. Does the district not remember this?

There are ways to arrange a schedule so you can have blocked classes, but the key is to still have each class continue year-long for a full credit. One way is to have 60-70 minute classes (they seem to be optimum for student's focus time), or use the "rolling" type schedules a la Garfield (or Meridian HS near Bellingham).

But do not settle for classes which are only one semester per credit, as the kids will pay the price. In an ideal world, it sounds great, but in reality it rarely works well for all subjects & for all kids.

SP said...

AdHoc- Are you sure your kids get a full credit (and not just 1/2 credit) for a semester course at Hale? The schedule shows that it is a six period blocked schedule (a variation on Garfield's schedule) which means to get a full credit, you need to take the class year long.

At Hale, don't you still need to take all your core classes all year long in order to get a full credit, say for Spanish 1 or LA 10?

Like I said earlier, the 6-period "rolling" blocked (like Garfield or my understanding, Hale also), with some days blocked & some days all 6, but with year-long classes for core subjects earning 1 credit is much preferable to the 4-period type where one credit is earned in 1/2 year.

BTW- In the SPS, high schools can require more than the minimum credits required by the district (20) to graduate (ie Hale & Center School) but not less.

Anonymous said...

Reaction from my eight-grader to this recap: "No Fair! Why can't that school be in the north end?" Obviously he doesn't know the context of other south-end high school options vs. IB, Biotech Academey, Hale and Roosevelt, but more evidence that the program has appeal for kids.

wv: Sallyz, which probably refers to the huge sales Sally Foster expects from the Clevelant PTA, given the cost of this program!

anonymous said...

Seattle Parent, yes, Freshmen students (and only Freshman) at Hale get a full credit for SS, English, Science, and health, though they are only in the class for 1/2 of the year.

For Freshmen, the Hale year is broken down into 4 quarters. My sons core classes for first and third quarter are Science and health (no SS or English). For the second and fourth quarter he switches to social studies and English (but no health or science). So he only takes science, health, English and SS for 1/2 year each (2 quarters) but earns a full credit. Even though kids only spend a half year in their core subjects they are there the same amount of hours as kids that follow a traditional schedule. Plus they alternate core classes every quarter instead of at the half year, so they are not without instruction in any core subject for a long period of time. As for electives, PE, foreign language, music, and math - they are not included in the blocks. They are regular 55 minute, daily classes.

I agree with you Seattle Parent that this schedule has it's drawbacks. But it also has it's benefits. For instance from an organizational standpoint, for my son managing two core classes at a time (instead of 4) is very helpful. Plus he seems to be able to fully focus on those two classes which allows him to really immerse himself into whatever he is studying.

Again, Hale only does this for Freshmen. Their scheduling is different for 10th grade (though I'm not sure exactly how). Then in 11th and 12th students follow a traditional 6 period day, without blocks.

My favorite way of scheduling, and blocking of all, was how they did it at his Shoreline MS. On Monday they went to every class for 55 minutes each. Then for the rest of the week they alternated Tues/Thurs they went to science and math for double periods but didn't go to SS and English, and Monday/Friday they went to SS and English for double periods but didn't go to math and science. He still only had to manage homework from two teachers per night, but went to all classes year round. This worked very very well for him. I'd love to see some Seattle high schools schedule in this way.

anne said...

I also attended the meeting and generally agree with Charlie that they have been working hard and have a vision for the sTEM program, but like many things, the devil is in the details.

My son excels in and math and science and does not participate in music so that's a good fit. It would not be a good fit for kids in music, which includes many of the APP or Spectrum kids that can go to GHS.

My son is taking French at WMS and really likes it, in large part because the teacher, Mr. Simmons. Since Garfield will not be offering french I would recommend Cleveland should offer it as a way of enticing some students. Further, maybe even trying to get Mr. Simmons to teach there.

I think there is potential for a motivated group of kids to sign up for the program. I think the extended day, extended graduation requirements, and four years of math and science will weed out a lot of kids. I would say the largest group representing there were asians. I am curious what will happen to the 11th and 12th graders when required to go and extended day. Those cohorts are already quite small, and I imagine will be reduced even further. There are currently 236 students in the ninth grade class, and they will be allowing students to enroll, as space allows, up to the 250 spots available.

My main concerns centered around how to differentiate learning in the beginning. For example:

if a student is an advanced algebra in ninth grade, and there are very few students at that stage, what they do? At other schools those students would be in classes with older kids, but at Cleveland the 11th and 12th graders are not participating in STEM, and so there are two issues: 1) is the class taught in a project-based format? and 2) do the 11th and 12th graders also have 100 minute classes?

if a student is an advanced algebra in ninth grade thes do they really need to be further accelerate in math? The schedule would have them taking advanced algebra first semester and pre-calc second semester the ninth grade and then calculus starting in 10th grade. I don't know if my son is mature enough to start calculus that young. For science, I don't mind the acceleration, if it means they can take the wider range of science courses during high school.

There will be some kids that are quite far behind in the beginning. How can you start in algebra, at an accelerated pace, if you're not ready yet? It doesn't do much good to have a lab second semester to catch up. I think about rainier scholars, and the level of time required to bring those kids up to College-prep track. They are selecting kids showing potential, and still the kids must commit to school every summer. For STEM, anyone can enter, as it should be a public school, but kids will be starting at very different levels. In some cases these kids are struggling because of immigrant parents and the lack of math support at home. Their parents want their kids to succeed, and STEM presents a good option, but there is lots of work to do to bring them up to speed. Project-based learning can help differentiate learning, but the class of 30 kids teacher is going to have to be pretty amazing to pull it off. I read the report cited an earlier post about project-based learning, and the feedback from teachers was that it required a lot more preparation.

Supposedly they are preparing current ninth graders for next year by having an extra period in spring. I think it was in math, but I'm not sure. I was thinking this would be a great opportunity to help STEM succeed and at the same time get an inside view of what Cleveland is like and who is thinking of staying.

anne said...

"Supposedly they are preparing current ninth graders for next year by having an extra period in spring. I think it was in math, but I'm not sure. I was thinking this would be a great opportunity to help STEM succeed and at the same time get an inside view of what Cleveland is like and who is thinking of staying."

I was thinking of volunteering to tutor during the extra period.

SE Mom said...

I think Anne has a really good point about advanced math for 9th graders. I have asked about that issue at Sealth which we are considering for IB. They stated that 9th graders starting with Algebra II would be in a class with 10th graders.

At Cleveland would there be enough kids in 9th grade to warrant an Algebra II class and is Algebra II being offered for 10th graders at Cleveland now?

Hard to guess how many kids will be part of the new 9th grade cohort. I suppose most kids choosing STEM would have interest and apptitude in math. Also depends what middle school they are coming from as to what math they were able to take in 8th grade.

anne said...

They definitely see their middle school feeders as Aki Kurose and Mercer, and I think the geographic boundaries for the option tiebreaker will encompass those schools, and not likely WMS.

The data should be available as to whether there are any kids in geometry in eighth grade currently at either of those schools.

I'm curious, when a kid goes off to a community college to take a class what are the logistics? How do they fit it in their schedule? Do they have to that typically take it in the evening? How do they get to the community college campus?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Anne, you have to meet with a counselor at the CC to set up enrollment. You can try to get a daytime class but unless you time it perfectly (and have a car), most take evening or online classes. Both my sons have taken evening classes. It makes for a long day but it's only twice a week (usually). You have to arrange your own transportation. It is free except for a couple of small fees.

SP said...

Anne,
Your concern about the accelerated schedule for math with Cleveland's proposed blocked schedule (one credit per semester) is a real concern. It's kind of a Catch 22.

If you want your kid to take math all year, they would have to take a full year of math each semseter, 2 years of math total per school year. And, yes, that means by the time they are a sophomore, they are taking calculus. From my experience, this is too much, way too fast for the majority of kids.

So, the alternative is to pace the classes, one per year, but then your kid has no math for 1/2 year (which can be especially bad for taking WASL, SAT tests, etc.).

Besides, the school usually runs out of enough advanced math at that rate (8 years of math in 4 years!).

SolvayGirl said...

Now if only the southend could get a high school that had something to offer students who were not interested in becoming doctors or engineers...

Charlie Mas said...

At Cleveland STEM students will need four years of math to graduate and will need to take math through calculus to graduate. Students who enter taking Geometry in the 9th grade can meet those requirements in the 9th and 10th grades. Of course, they could spread that out over more time by not taking math every semester.

The folks at Cleveland were very clear that the scheduling was something that they had not yet figured out completely. Consequently, it would be particularly unwise to base any decision on enrollment on anyone's conjecture about what the scheduling might be like.

That said, I was pretty discouraged to see that they weren't really seeking any input on this - or any other - decision from the folks in the community who have an enrollment decision to make.

Gouda said...

It will be interesting to see if SE Seattle families end up choosing this school or if it ends up drawing from the whole city. I think this is a concern of the current staff, and I hope they are doing local outreach to help curb that.

I'm also curious to see how transportation will work; right now there is really only one Metro route (60) that goes directly to the door and one other (106) that comes close. Access to the school will make a big difference in people choosing it.

I'm torn about this school. On one hand, I am excited to see something that appears rigorous with high levels of personalization in SE Seattle. On the other, I am concerned that neighborhood families might not choose the school.

In addition, the new principal there has been rumored to have done a great job changing the culture there and serving kids well. We'll never know if Princess could have turned that ship around and served a population of students entirely underserved by the District.

If those students end up at Rainier Beach, it will break my heart.

mkd said...

A funny thing happened at a diverse gathering of young people from our church, all who attend a variety of local public schools in the Seattle area. Over cookies and hot chocolate, the talk turned to Wikipedia as a viable research source. Two middle schools allowed it, two used School Wikipedia in lieu of available history books. Only one, Hamilton, did not allow the kids to cite Wikipedia as a source. Speaking of writing in general, only four knew how to write a paragraph, how to build a thesis, where to seek reliable resources, how to build a five paragraph essay, summarize, craft an argument, write a research paper, outline, and the list went on and on. Some of these kids went to Washington Middle School and Garfield. Others were from Cleveland and RBHS. Those from Hamilton did the best. We're not talking about a bunch of teens unwilling to learn. More questions were asked than time allowed.

I learned to write a basic five-sentence paragraph that was easily converted to the basic five-paragraph essay. I'm seriously worried that students lack the necessary skills to read, write, analyze and articulate their ideas in an advanced program like STEM will require.

CCM said...

Just speaking for our kids - but I know that there has been talk of using Wikipedia as a source for research, and they are not allowed to do so for any of their classes. Primary source has been discussed at length.
Our kids are at WMS.

SP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mkd said...

It depends on the teacher. When I was in college, one assignment was to go in and "update" information on Wikipedia and then see how long it would take for someone to catch the mistake. One student placed 300 million people in the City of San Francisco. It stayed that way for a week. I'm glad your kids are learning where and how to research. Get them a copy of the "Little Brown Book." In addition to a good Thesaurus, for my boys, it has been the best investment I ever made.

mkd said...

Charlie,
I like the idea of a longer day. Some of the private schools have been doing this for years. In addition, I've also been a long-time proponent of year-long school. Smaller breaks maintains continuity. Giving kids three months off to forget discipline as well as everything they learn, means that teachers have to waste precious "seat time" reteaching what kids learned prior to summer. It also keeps them focused, busy and out of trouble.

More school time and longer days allows teachers to focus more on core subjects and skills that many kids are sadly lacking.

SP said...

Charlie,
Unfortunately, schedules DO make a difference, and greatly impact/complicate a student's 4 years in high school. I thought the same thing as you initially when we made the choice of high schools for our first kid, that maybe the pros would outweigh the cons with a blocked type of schedule (with one year covered in a semester), but as we actually experienced it, the cons quickly began to outweigh the pros. To the point that I would NOT choose a high school for my middle schooler if I knew that there even was a remote possibility that the school was considering such a schedule.

Blocking, if taught by experienced teachers properly can work great- it's the blocking tied to a one semester/credit type schedule which is the problem (Garfield avoids this problem with it's rolling-type schedule, thus a credit is still earned over the full year).

If Cleveland is requiring 4 years of math (earned in HS, and not MS credits) to graduate, that means 4 half years of math, if you pace the classes, or as many students experienced, more like two years of all year math and then suddenly, ooopss...no more math for two years! As many friends in this situation found out, they had to get math at Running Start their senior year as colleges do not look kindly on math/science students only taking math so early in their HS years.

The same applies to world languages...

I also forgot to mention earlier that such a blocked, 1 semester/credit schedule wrecks havock with AP classes and the timing for the AP tests. Either you have the subject 1st semester and then have to wait until May for the test, or if you have the subject in 2nd semester, you will not have nearly covered the proper amount by the test date.

From a 10/01/07 district PowerPoint, for the "Rationale for the Decision" (to drop the blocked 4-period, 1 semester/1 credit schedule):

1. Continuity of learning, particularily in math
2. Better access to core academic curriculum
3. Nearly 30% more instructional hours per credit
4. System alignment
5. Mobility between comprehensive high schools

Charlie Mas said...

I don't know if the blocking is good for the students who need to catch up in math, good for all of the students, or good for all of the students if it is for some subjects and not others.

I do know that there doesn't appear to be any opportunity to discuss these questions with the folks at Cleveland.

Also, I've come to see the Cleveland STEM program from a new perspective. It now appears to me that the District has essentially closed Cleveland High School as a failure and, in its place, has opened a new high school, STEM.

We have an alternative school moving into an attendance area school's building and the termination of the attendance area school program. This resembles nothing so much as Pathfinder moving into Cooper. If Pathfinder were not an established school and if the Cooper students were allowed to remain in the building, it would be the same.

seattle citizen said...

Charlie,

I agree with your statement, except where you write that "[w]e have an alternative school moving into an attendance area school's building and the termination of the attendance area school program."

We DO have an Option school moving into an attendance area building, but not an Alternative school. Alterntative schools are identified as such by their levels of adherance to the Alterntative Checklist (2007) and Policy C54.00 (2006)

I agree with the gist of your comments, but let's be clear about definitions (as you always point out regarding other things, such as curriculum)

(WV goes to for pizza, in its digital world, at Pikeroa)

Charlie Mas said...

Following the Alternative school audit, whenever that comes, I think that STEM will be identified as an Alternative.

When that happens, I think you will see the definition of Alternative shift away from a focus on democracy and social justice and towards a definition based on non-traditional pedagogy and instuctional practices.

seattle citizen said...

Sooo...what's the difference, again, between an alternative (even in the non-democratic classroom sense) and an Option school? I know we've had this discussion, but I'm still confused...

I like the idea of using "Option" or "Choice" for non-traditional schools, whatever sort, and "Alternative" for what it is: Board policy, SPS Committee reports...all consider "alternative" to include certain factors beyond "option" or "choice"

But unless there is a demand for this terminology to continue, I think you're right, Charlie, that district will either phase out "alternative" all together or change all "option" schools to that term.

SPS parent said...

I think the definition of an "alternative school" as defined by the alternative school committee will not be relevant once we move to the new SAP, at least not for assignment purposes.

I think we will see all non traditional schools (STEM, Montessori, language immersion, alts, etc) lumped under one umbrella....."option" schools. I don't think the district is at all interested in seperating alternative schools from option schools.

seattle citizen said...

adhoc, I agree, but suggest that alternatives are one type of option school, not a separate thing.

I think I'm advocating for transportation and all-city draw to "choice" programs (whatever they may be, and "option" seems to be the nom de jure....)


We have Montessori, Language, STEM, Alternatives, Academies in the "comp" schools...all these offer different things, all of which are (or can be) attractive to students desiring those unique offerings. I applaud the desire to provide each area with quality comp schools (traditional schools) but also think that offering unique programs around the city is a good thing for students. In my utopian view, Option schools (including alts) would flourish with the students they might attract due to their uniqueness.

Some might (will) argue that this draws students away from the comp schools, but so what? Isn't this what choice in the vein of charters is supposed to do? Drive schools to get better so as to retain students?

The "solution" of making all neighborhood schools the same, limiting choice, and thereby somehow improving schools seems to kill a sort of unique experience, be it Nova or BioTech, that students clamor for.

WV inkled. I'll get a towel...

SPS parent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SPS parent said...

I couldn't agree more SC. I'm an alt schools fan myself, as I am a fan of comprehensive schools ability to offer varied focuses, specialty offerings and unique cultures. Currently, with choice, our schools provide the students of SPS with many options!

I don't like cookie cutter schools. I never have, and I never will. But I don't think the district shares my views.

In the end I think we will see all non traditional schools lumped together as "choice" or "option" schools, with a limited area draw and limited transportation. Personally, I think this will mark the end of alt schools as we know them.

Further, I think we will see comprehensive schools, particularly high schools, become cookie cutter schools, all the same. And while I agree that all schools SHOULD offer a baseline of academic courses (including honors and AP or IB), visual and performing arts, and sports, I would like to see their stong cultures, specialty focuses and unique offerings stay intact and thrive. But I don't think that will happen without some real choice built into the new SAP.

Charlie Mas said...

The powerpoint from the STEM meeting is now available online.

Unknown said...

Adhoc: your post makes me pound my pillow and gnash my teeth. I am also an advocate of alt schools (and choice, and having some choices that really mean something to kids in terms of their education) and I fear that we may lose almost all of it.

Seattle Citizen: I fear it is too late (for this round, at least) to try to make programs within schools "all city draws" --sensible though it is. It would require redrawing the boundaries, and I cannot see them doing that now.
I DO think, though, that we should:
(1) press for all city draws to all choice and option schools (NOVA, Sealth, AS1, Pathfinder, ORCA, the new Montessori program at Old Hay (and start to establish a principled basis for determining that choice should be taken a step further when boundaries are next adjusted);
(2) press for city-wide transportation to all choice/alternate schools -- with the caveat that if there are two same "choices" (for example, 2 versions of TOPS or 2 all Montessori elementaries) -- the district could opt to provide transportation only to the nearest one. This will do two things; it will make it possible for people to choose alt/choice schools who otherwise could not; and it will encourage the district to clone popular choice schools and site them in places that will reduce transporation costs; and
3. Make sure that choice/alt schools have reasonable schools into which they feed.

Maybe if we can keep accessability, we can at least preserve most of the alt options, and we can tackle accessibility to programs WITHIN schools the next time boundaries are redrawn.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Boy Jan, I sure wish that would work but the costs to transport any student anywhere in the district are too high. I agree and understand that every alt is different and you may not want the one in your region. But I have seen the figures for transportation and it's too much money that should be in the classroom. This is just me but I know the district feels this keenly.

That said, alts need protection. Question is, who in upper leadership will be that protector?

Anonymous said...

MKD said: "It depends on the teacher. When I was in college, one assignment was to go in and "update" information on Wikipedia and then see how long it would take for someone to catch the mistake. One student placed 300 million people in the City of San Francisco. It stayed that way for a week."

Just try doing that today. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's far from easy because there are so many eyeballs monitoring the site. I just had a conversation about Wikipedia with someone recently, who is under the (outdated) misimpression that it's full of unreliable crap, and it should not be used for research. I absolutely disagree, and I would submit for discussion that it is perhaps the best (free) source for *general* research that is available to most people, and in many cases should be the first choice to get a flavor for the topic of interest - and to locate other sources.

At the bottom of most Wikipedia pages is a list of sources where you can continue your research. But here's the main point I'd like to make: many of those pages are just as likely to be incorrect or more likely, *biased*, than a summary page which brings various articles together with peer review. If an independent article is of high quality, then it's very likely someone else has already found it and listed it in the references section of that Wikipedia page!

It's not impossible for inaccurate edits to occur, but it would need to be a very obscure topic for a bad edit to linger more than a very short time - often only a few minutes - and *anyone* can see those changes. Just click History at the top of every single page. For the most part it's become not worthwhile for people to bother. It's just more effort than it's worth, because an editor can come along and undo a bad change in a matter of seconds. Far less time than it takes to make the mal-edits.

So while I would argue that one should always try to multi-source their information, Wikipedia is a great source, and in the vast majority of cases, highly accurate (some studies show equally as high quality as a printed encyclopedia).

It will take time for some people to get over the bad stories from the "olden days".

Maureen said...

Melissa, you say:
But I have seen the figures for transportation and it's too much money that should be in the classroom

Can you please link to the source? I have been looking for this data for years. The best I have seen was in the Seattle Times in 2005.

But they say TOPS' transportation costs were $31,526. They have Adams(first K-5 on the list) at $147,921, so I question their data (I did email at the time and no one answered me).

Thanks!

seattle citizen said...

Melissa, I'd be interested in seeing citations for transpo costs, as well.

If, as was just suggested, TOPS cost 30,000 and change, and at a guess TOPS has 300 students, this works out to about 100 per student.

With a cost per student of about 10,000, this seems a rather small cost for the choice (and the value therein) offered by transportation.

And if there were lots of choices for HS, it wouldn't matter a bit, because students can get bus passes regardless of where they are at, no?

The harder issue is boundries: If you assume that, say, ten percent of students won't go to their neighborhood school, this would require making each neighborhood...smaller? Or reconfiguring them?

Heck, I don't know, maybe boundry issues wouldn't be a problem: we'd just have smaller class sizes in the neighborhood schools, yea!

SE Mom said...

TOPS has about 520 (not 300)students, so the per student cost for transportation is even lower.

seattle citizen said...

With 520 students and 31,000 dollars for TOPS transpo, that costs out to about $60 per student,

or about 0.6% of the $10,000 or so per year to educate a kid in Seattle.

I bet that transportation never rises above, say, 3-4% of cost, and the benefits are huge in allowing students to go to schools that fit their needs. There are also efficiencies to be had in avoiding redundancies:
After putting quality baseline (core) studies in each building, specialized offerings don't have to be put into each building (or even each cluster) so there is that savings.

And I'd repeat that choice seems to be what people want (for good reason): Half the pitch of the charter movement is that these schools offer unique "academies" where students can connect to pedagogies/themes that interest them. One of the most important aspects of education is engagement of students, and this is partly done by providing themes that interest them. An violinist might have little interest in airplane structural engineering - Roosevelt isn't Aviation High, and for good reason.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Maureen, your citation of the Seattle Times in 2005 is one of my sources but I'm not sure it has a link available. The other source was the district when I served on the C&C committee. I'd have to go back and dig it out but I was astonished at the costs. As I recall AS#1 and Summit had huge costs but I don't recall TOPS right off hand. It certainly wasn't $30,000.

Do I think these costs could be brought down through fewer stops or other ideas? I do. And, of course high school kids can take Metro (I was talking about K-8 before).

Maureen said...

I wouldn't get all caught up in that number for TOPS--It's almost certainly wrong. If you follow the link, you'll see that Bryant was $123,718, JSIS was $429,384, Blaine was $182,370, Lowell was $841,959.

I'm guessing the TOPS number was a typo--probably more like $315,260. Which works out to about $600 per student.

The Seattle Times numbers don't break out for special ed, BOC etc--that makes a big difference. Transportation costs money, I get that, but access to intentional communities is valuable as well.

It is interesting to me that a school like Bryant or Montlake ($174,529 for 270 kids = $646 per student) that supposedly fill from their immediate neighborhoods, still have relatively high busing costs.

hschinske said...

TOPS at that time was sharing transportation with Lowell. The transportation costs for Lowell that year were said to be (drumroll, please) $841,959. I boggled at that until I realized the special education busing must be much more expensive, but even so, the costs seem awfully high.

You'd really need to break out the busing costs for APP at Lowell, add that to the costs for non-special-ed students at TOPS, and divide by the total number of students involved. You'd also have to compare to the cost at another school *per the number of students who actually ride the bus.* For instance, the cost per student at Bryant in 2005 was about $240, but the cost per *bus-riding* student must have been much higher. (Lowell and TOPS have almost all their students scheduled for buses, from what I understand. Any given day, maybe 80% ride the bus? not sure of exact figure.)

An asterisk after the cost of busing in the Times data indicates that the school shares busing with another school. Apparently Adams also shared busing at that time, dunno with whom.

Helen Schinske

mkd said...

Charlie,
I was not challenging people to change Wikipedia. In fact, the site can often point a student in the right direction. The man who teaches my son's history class is fantastic. Most schools, especially colleges, absolutely forbid citing anything from Wikipedia. Since we are preparing kids to be successful in a college environment, it is imperative to teach how to discern which websites should be used when researching a paper, report, etc.

Absolutely, use Wikipedia if you are looking for direction and then, as Charlie said, verify with a reputable source.

The Wikipedia thing actually harks back to a gathering of teens at my house last week, all who attend a variety of local public schools in the Seattle area. Over cookies and hot chocolate, the talk turned to Wikipedia as a viable research source. Two middle schools allowed it, two used School Wikipedia in lieu of available history books. Only one, Hamilton, did not allow the kids to cite Wikipedia as a source. Less than half could write a paragraph or build a thesis as well as take their paragraph and create a five paragraph essay.

I was not attacking Wikipedia, but solid writing skills that make high school and college much easier.

anonymous said...

When considering transportation costs, the size of the school also matters. A reference area school with 290 kids (Sacajewea) won't have the same transportation costs as a reference area school with 550 kids (Bryant).

Bryant has 550 kids, thus their transportation costs are higher than most smaller schools. Bryant also has ELL and special ed which have cluster wide draws.

For the regular program, if you don't live in the reference area it is almost impossible to get into Bryant for K. But MANY out of reference area families keep trying to get in year after year, and many eventually find space in the upper grades and transfer in. So Bryant, contrary to popular belief is not all neighborhood kids. Almost half (250 kids) ride the bus.

Dorothy Neville said...

now that the topic has morphed to buses, can we possibly have a thread to discuss transportation. What about the promised Transportation Task Force that is supposed to look into best practices for start times and all that stuff.

This is pertinent in a specific way because regardless of transition plan, there very well may be some siblings at different elementary schools where it's not the parent's choice for the separation. So staggered start times might be very much needed.

Plus, the changes last year, just about everyone agreed, do not follow best practices for child and adolescent development and safety, but were put in place specifically for the convenience of transportation department. There's to be a task force to look at this, right? (Beuller? Beuller?)

Charlie Mas said...

The costs for transportation to Lowell sound really high at $840,000, but the reimbursement from the State is such that the district actually turns a profit on bussing APP students.

The gross cost isn't the number to watch. The number you want is the net cost after State reimbursement.