Sunday, January 31, 2010

Board Meeting Agenda Items

The School Board has a meeting this Wednesday, Feb. 3, at 6 p.m. The agenda is quite full. Among the items:
  • approval of the NTN contract for STEM for $800,000. As has been widely discussed here, there are some troubling aspects of this contract with the bottom line being that it might not be the best and most cost-effective way to set up STEM at Cleveland. The Board has pushed back a lot and now we will see if they stand by their objections or not. From the agenda item: "The funding source for this project will be a combination of Learning Assistance Program (LAP), Building Excellence (BEX), and Cleveland High School budget dollars. Federal and private grant opportunities are also being pursued. " Which BEX and how much from each source? It's this kind of vagueness that always comes back to bite the Board.
  • High school LA arts adoption.
  • The 2010-2011 schedule is being introduced on Wednesday night.September 8th will be the first day of school and June 21 (!) the last day of school for 2010-2011.
  • Interesting. A "Performance Management" policy is being introduced that may have the answer to the question, "What is earned autonomy?" To wit:
    • "The school performance framework will use school performance data to group and segment schools based on both absolute performance and growth measures. It will also include a set of actions the District will take with schools based on their performance segment and need. In general, schools that are high performing on multiple dimensions will be given greater autonomy in specific areas. Schools that are making solid growth and meeting their annual performance targets will receive the targeted support to continue on their trajectory. And schools that are not meeting their annual performance targets will receive prescriptive guidance from the district. The two ends of this performance spectrum are described below."

    • Schools that are high performing on both the absolute and growth dimensions and have no significant achievement gaps between high poverty and low poverty students will have ‘earned autonomy’ for the following decisions: academic and social-emotional programs and interventions; selection of professional development; C-SIP goals and planning; and budget flexibility for discretionary spending.
    • Schools that have three years of low growth and sustain low absolute performance will be subject to one or more of the following actions taken by the Superintendent:
    1. Change school leadership
    2. Change school staff'
    3. Direct instructional strategies and professional development
    4. Change curricular materials and or programs
    5. Conduct regular accountability reviews throughout the year with the principal, CAO,
    and Instructional Directors
  • Close and/or reconstitute the school
Regardless of academic achievement, all schools and programs are expected to use approved district materials and curriculum, including assessments.


I heard back from Director Carr on her query to Dr. Enfield about NTN (New Tech Network). Her reply:

Yes. Here is the text that was included in the document:
  • The New Tech Network started in 1996 as a replication model for schools focused on building 21st Century Learning Skills through a project-based learning experience. This network currently includes 41 schools across nine states. Within this broader network, 13 high schools (31%) have a focus on STEM content. In 2008, New Tech Network became a wholly owned subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks Foundation based out of Ohio. KnowledgeWorks was originally a student loan organization that converted into an endowed foundation. It is governed by a board of directors comprised of business, education and community leaders. A list of their board members can be found at: http://www.kwfdn.org/about/board.
I looked at the link. They look good but it does seem like NTN would have this at their own website.

Also, I had asked Director Carr about some differences between the original BTA levy list and what is listed to be done on the voter flyer. (As I pointed out in a different thread, there are striking differences and most of them mean fewer projects for fewer buildings.) Fred Stephens, head of Facilities, says that everything on the original list is still on the approved list to be done. I wrote him (and cc'd the entire Board) asking him to verify a couple of items that he says are to be done. Namely:
  • The original list had 17 roof replacments/seismic. The voter flyer has 11.
  • The original list had 7 seismic/reinforced masonry. The voter flyer has 3.
  • The original list has 6 buildings listed for energy efficiencies including roof and heating. The voter flyer reflects only heating (and it's a whole paragraph on heating).
So Mr. Stephens is saying that the original list IS the list. So why not, if you are doing so much more, list everything you are doing? There is room for it on the flyer (I used to be in publishing and they could have easily printed more). And why spend a whole paragraph on the energy efficient heating and yet not mention, by the way, we're also doing green roofs?

Once the get the money, they get to do whatever capital work they want with it. It is very easy to say, "it's on the list" and then say later "something came up" when they never intended to do the work listed. But not even starting from the voter flyer with all the projects certainly seems odd.

Lastly, anyone from Hale? A friend of mine told me that the construction managers and workers and even a few teachers are wearing face masks as they walk through the building. Yet, no masks have been offered to students even those with asthma. Any idea why?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Program Placement

It was done as a footnote to the Student Assignment Plan and got almost no discussion from the Board, but the Program Placement decisions for the coming school year have been made.

The process for Program Placement decisions was just as opaque and mysterious this year as it has been in previous years. The rationale for decisions were just as flimsy or non-existant as they have been in previous years as well.

I just wanted to take a bit of space to review and discuss both the decisions and the given rationale. It seems appropriate at a time when a King County Superior Court judge is trying to determine if the School Board makes decisions capriciously.

1. The superintendent decided to place a Spectrum program at Arbor Heights. Since this decision is concurrent with the closure of the Spectrum program at West Seattle Elementary (and the creation of an ALO there), it constitutes the relocation of the elementary Spectrum program for the Denny Service Area from West Seattle to Arbor Heights. The rationale provided was: "Locating the Spectrum program at Arbor Heights is consistent with the implementation of the New Student Assignment Plan." That doesn't really explain much, does it? This decision is even more difficult to understand when you remember that the District rejected THE EXACT SAME PROPOSAL last year. Last year it was such a bad idea that it did not even merit discussion; this year it is such a good idea that it is the only proposal from a member of the public that was accepted. What changed? Nothing. Both the decision to reject the proposal last year and the decision to accept it this year appear capricious. The real difference? Director Sundquist wanted the change so it happened. Also, the failure to consider this proposal last year and the weak rationale given for its rejection was a black eye against the process.

2. The superintendent rejected a proposal to place the Spectrum program for the Mercer Service Area at Kimball. Instead, a new program will be located at Hawthorne. The rationale given was "Locating the Spectrum program at Kimball is not consistent with the goal of locating services closest to where students live." So we're to understand that Hawthorne is closer to where the Spectrum students in the Mercer Service Area live than Kimball is. Here is a map of the Mercer Service Area. Kimball is clearly more central to the service area than Hawthorne. The schools are of comparable size (Hawthorne functional capacity 428, Kimball functional capacity 466). I don't have data on how many Spectrum students live within the attendance area of each school, but the decision is for students throughout the service area. A more likely rationale for this decision was that Hawthorne has significantly lower enrollment (284 at Hawthorne vs. 486 at Kimball) and significantly poorer WASL pass rates. This was a move to bolster both the attendance and the test scores at Hawthorne, the only elementary school in the Mercer Service Area that isn't showing strong improvement. WASL pass rates at Hawthorne are unquestionably the worst in the whole district.

2009 WASL Pass Rates, Hawthorne vs. District averages
3rd Grade Math, Hawthorne: 23.7% - Lowest in the District
3rd Grade Math, District Average: 71.6%

3rd Grade Reading, Hawthorne: 18.4% - Lowest in the District (by far)
3rd Grade Reading, District Average: 75.0%

4th Grade Math, Hawthorne: 12.5% - Second lowest in the District
4th Grade Math, District Average: 60.6%

4th Grade Reading, Hawthorne: 21.9% - Lowest in the District
4th Grade Reading, District Average: 75.0%

4th Grade Writing, Hawthorne: 9.4% - Lowest in the District (by far)
4th Grade Writing, District Average: 70.0%

5th Grade Math, Hawthorne: 23.1% - Lowest in the District (by far)
5th Grade Math, District Average: 68.8%

5th Grade Reading, Hawthorne: 30.8% - Lowest in the District
5th Grade Reading, District Average: 75.4%

5th Grade Science, Hawthorne: 3.8% - Lowest in the District
5th Grade Science, District Average: 53.3%

Given the record of academic achievement at Hawthorne, how likely is a family to enroll their Spectrum eligible student there? Where has this worked in the past? The APP Audit specifically recommended that the District place gifted programs in schools with students who are academically similar to the gifted students. This is an incredibly bad program placement. It is most similar to the decision to place a Spectrum program at West Seattle Elementary; a decision that was finally reversed just this year. Did they learn nothing from that experience? This appears to have been a deliberate decision, but one that goes against all stated policy and practice.

3. The superintendent rejected a proposal to place north-end elementary APP at McDonald. The rationale given was "The Board approved pathways for APP are consistent with the New Student Assignment Plan." This rationale essentially presumes that program placement does not have a role in determining the placement of APP, which clearly isn't true. It may be that the current location of north-end elementary APP is consistent with the new Student Assignment Plan, but it is not consistent with the Program Placement Policy and it certainly isn't consistent with the goal of locating services closest to where students live, a reason strong enough to be the rationale for otherwise questionable choices. It's pretty clear that this decision is regarded as made and is not open to discussion. The proposal was not seriously considered. It was capriciously dismissed.

4. The superintendent rejected a proposal to place the Spectrum program for the Washington Service Area at Madrona K-8. Instead, the program at Muir will serve the Washington Service Area. The rationale given was "Locating the Spectrum program at Madrona K-8 is not consistent with the goal of locating services closest to where students live." So we're to understand that Muir is closer to where the Spectrum students in the Washington Service Area live than Madrona is. Here is a map of the Washington Service Area. Madrona is clearly more central to the service area than Muir. In fact, any other school is more central to the service area than Muir. Madrona also has the extra advantage of being able to provide additional Spectrum capacity for grades 6-8 if the program at Washington reaches capacity - which it does every year. Middle school Spectrum students in the Washington service area put on the waitlist for Washington do not have access to another Spectrum program. Students on the Whitman and Eckstein waitlists for Spectrum can enroll at Broadview-Thomson or Jane Addams for Spectrum 6-8. Washington students have no comparable option. Additionally, the presence of a Spectrum program at Madrona might signal the school's willingness to address the academic needs of students working beyond Standards. This decision appears both bad and in violation of the Board's policy guidance.

5. and 6. The superintendent rejected proposals to expanded special education inclusion programs at Salmon Bay and TOPS to grades 6-8. The rationale given was "no expansion of services is recommended" and "there are no recommended changes". These are not rationale. This rationale, if it is to be believed, is the very essence of caprice. The superintendent says that she isn't going to do it because she isn't going to do it.

7. and 8. The superintendent rejected proposals to create international schools at McDonald and Sand Point. The rationale given was "This does not support the expansion plan for International Schools." This is an interesting rationale. You might wonder "What plan for International Schools?" The plan for the expansion of International Schools was released on the same day as these program placement decisions. An examination of the plan for International Schools does not reveal any rationale for the timing, location, or number of these schools. They are completely lacking any supporting data or logic. To use this capricious plan - which was heretofore secret - as the rationale for rejecting these proposals is artificial and without merit. Here's the funny thing. The plan actually DOES call for the identification of an international school in the north-end in the coming year. No school is identified.

9. The superintendent rejected a proposal to create a Montessori program at Roxhill. The rationale given was "There is no plan to extend Montessori programs to additional attendance area schools." Ummm... yeah, that's why a member of the public had to propose it. Make a plan. Actually, this rationale appears to signal the District's intention to discontinue the practice of installing Montessori programs as a part of a school (such as it appears at Graham Hill and Bagley) and instead create only entire Montessori schools, such as Queen Anne Elementary. Even so, there is no alternative school in the Denny Service Area, so the proposal could have been adapted to extend to the whole school and make it an Option school using Montessori pedagogy. That idea would also have been rejected (see below). This decision was based on another decision which was not made public and which does not have any data or logic to support it. It is in opposition to Board policy directing the equitable distribution of programs.

10. The superintendent rejected a proposal to create an alternative program at McDonald. The rationale given was "There is no plan to extend alternative curriculum to Attendance Area schools." Once again, the absence of a plan is not a reason to reject a proposal. There is no alternative school in the Hamilton Service Area. This decision was based on another decision which was not made public and which does not have any data or logic to support it. It is in opposition to Board policy directing the equitable distribution of programs.

Friday, January 29, 2010

KUOW Wants Your Input On Math Curriculum

I had had an e-mail exchange with KUOW on this issue but Dan got the information about their upcoming story. So here it is if you are interested and want to participate and/or listen:

In preparation for a segment to air on Feb 3, KUOW wants to hear from you.

KUOW has an item that they want parents to tell them about experiences with "Discovering" math textbooks and other inquiry-based math education.

They need to hear from you by Wednesday morning. They're asking for input from parents, students, teachers, and "other," but you have to be at least 13 years old to submit.

Go to http://www.kuow.org and click on the light bulb on the home page.

The light bulb is beside:

What's your experience with the new math textbooks?

Do you have a child in school who is using the new "Discovering Mathematics" textbooks? What is your experience with inquiry-based math education? Answer this question

Sorry To Bring This Up Again

Central Mom let us know about this latest school assault, this time on a Cleveland teacher by a 15-year old student. From the PI:

"A Cleveland High School teacher had to get four stitches at Swedish Hospital earlier this week after a student beat him, police said.

School staff called the student's father to pick him up, but didn't immediately report the alleged assault to police, a police report shows.

The assault happened about 9 a.m. Monday after the teacher told the student to complete his work. The student refused and began to rip up papers.

The student, 15, tried to remove the teacher's laptop and without warning slapped the teacher in the face, police said."

The teen allegedly admitted hitting the teacher because he wanted the instructor "out of his personal space."

As I have said before, there are probably low-grade incidents of aggression at many SPS high schools and middle schools every week. This is not one of those.

What is interesting to me is that a previous event a couple of weeks go where a student threw a teacher's desk belongings around and then tried to trip the teacher had some here saying, well, he didn't hurt her. But, he meant to. If he had tripped her and she cracked her head on a desk, she could have been seriously hurt. This incident is almost of the same nature except that the teacher did get hurt.

So this student has a "emergency expulsion" for now. The school did not call the police (at least not while the student was at school). They called for the student's father who picked up his son. The police were either notified by the victim at the hospital or by school staff after the student went home.

I sincerely hope it was by the school who might have been trying to calm the situation by just letting the student go home and have him arrested there. I don't know. But if the victim had to call the police, that would be bad. Teachers have to know they are protected and back up by the school if a student tries to endanger a teacher.

I think this really points to the need for a clearer explanation from the district to all parents and staff about what happens (should happen?) to students in these cases. There is a district booklet that details their discipline policies but it seems like many incidents get handled on a school-by-school and then case-by-case basis. I honestly think there has to be a line where all cases get handled the same way. Assault is one of them.

Sadly, there was also this in the story:

"Seattle Public Schools administrators have failed to call police for several serious incidents in the past, including a 2007 incident in which a developmentally delayed high school girl said she was sexually assaulted in a school bathroom."

SPS hurts itself by not having clear directions on what teachers and administrators are to do in these cases.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Odds and Ends

Wanted to get this word out if you can help (from our friends at the West Seattle Blog):

We just found out that two physicians friends will be headed to Haiti this weekend. They have been told that there is a great need for crutches due to amputations. If you have any crutches that you could donate please bring them by our house by Sunday night so we can get them on the flight. They can be left in the driveway or in the back of the pickup parked outside. The truck is a beige GMC with a topper.Our address is 3008 45th Ave SW. The house is blue and the cross streets are 45th and Stevens.If you have any questions please call Cathy at 206-406-6633.

And, RIP to two who counted in education - J.D. Salinger and Howard Zinn.

STEM Update for January 28

I know you're all probably tired of hearing the daily STEM news story, but this one is GOOD.

The Board discussed STEM at a work session on Wednesday afternoon, January 27. It began with Michael Tolley delivering a memo that clarified some misunderstood points and answered some questions from the Board. Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson was there but let Mr. Tolley do all of the talking.

Then Steve Sundquist and Harium Martin-Morris described their visit to an NTN high school in Sacramento.

Most of the Board members asked a few vague questions and got a few vague answers. The only memorable point to come out of this is that NTN is about project-based learning, not exclusively about STEM. So a lot of the NTN schools are not STEM schools, but all of them employ project-based learning.

Then just as it looked like it was going to end, the good stuff came out. Director DeBell started asking questions about the performance numbers from NTN schools. He mentioned Dan Dempsey (who was there sitting next to me) and the doubts about the numbers that had been previously reported. Mr. Tolley said that he didn't have those numbers but that they were getting them ready. Mr. DeBell reminded Mr. Tolley that they had asked for those numbers before and didn't get them. Director DeBell is leading a trend in which members of the Board remember the questions that they ask that don't get answers. Answers are promised, but they don't come. That used to happen all the time without notice, but now the Board members are starting to notice it and ask the questions again and mention that they had asked them before. It is an extremely promising trend.

Let me note here that the numbers Mr. DeBell asked for - and was promised - are readily available. Federal law requires schools to report this data publicly. It's part of NCLB. The data is online and can be found in minutes. If the staff hasn't provided the numbers it can only be because either they haven't looked for them or they have them but don't want to report them.

Then came the most wonderful part of all. Director Smith-Blum - who is rapidly becoming my favorite Board Director of all time - said that she asked her intern to research the availability of comprehensive STEM programs and, within a few minutes online, found that Project Lead the Way offers a comprehensive suite of services that are essentially equivalent to the one offered by NTN, but with longer training for the teachers and at a fraction of the cost. In this time of tight budgets, we need to seriously consider alternatives before we plunk down nearly a million dollars for some outside help. She then passed out copies of Project Lead the Way literature for each board member.

Now Dr. Goodloe-Johnson found her voice.

She said that there has been a STEM Steering Committee that worked on this for a long time and chose the NTN program as the only one that was comprehensive.

Yes, said Director Smith-Blum, and we have asked you for information on that selection process but have not received any. (There's that trend again!) With the previous mention of requested answers not appearing this created the sense that this was a recurring problem with the staff ignoring Board requests. It put the superintendent a little further into the hole.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said that the NTN materials were multi-disciplined, not just engineering, like Project Lead the Way, but for humanities and the arts as well.

Director Smith-Blum said that the Project Lead the Way folks told her that their program was comprehensive too, covering all kinds of classes and providing materials, lesson plans, a national network of teachers, the whole kit and kaboodle. She also noted that we already had a Project Lead the Way class at Cleveland and at several other schools. They are already our partners. Moreover, they are already approved with federal grant money.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson started sputtering - yeah, sputtering - about how there wasn't enough time...

Director Smith-Blum said that she contacted the folks at Project Lead the Way and asked them if they could complete a contract and have everything in place for the Fall and they said that they could.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson then said that they had gone too far down the NTN road to break it off now.

This troubled me because the Board had not yet approved the contract. I'd hate to think that she had painted them into a corner and created a situation in which they were somehow obligated to approve the NTN contract.

Well, with one thing and another the end result was that the Board offered the superintendent the guiding suggestion that she provide them with information about the comparable services available from Project Lead the Way.

Directors DeBell and Smith-Blum really impressed me. First, for saying out loud that they had been asking questions and haven't been getting answers. Second, for doing some of their own research. Director Smith-Blum then really impressed by
1) Getting an intern. What a freakin' brilliant move.
2) Giving the intern this assignment
3) Bringing the materials to the work session. That was the cherry on top.

I'm impressed and delighted.

Feb 5th Talk on Denver Innovation Schools

There's an upcoming talk that got my attention:

Innovation Schools: A Blueprint for Student Success
Featuring Rob Stein, principal of Manual HS in Denver
Fri, Feb 5, 11:30am - 1:30pm, at the Westin in Seattle
$35. For more details, see http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/events

Let me first say: I am not pro-charter nor anti-union, despite the anonymous slings others have tossed at me. I'm just a parent who is convinced we can do better with our schools, and like many of you (including some great principals and teachers), frustrated at the seeming lack of vision, progress, or accountability. I'm not strictly against charters like others who often speak up on this blog, but I share their concerns about outsourcing a public service to non-public entities who might too easily be tempted to increase profits at the expense of the kids most in need. I should also add that I am not a member or supporter of the Washington Policy Center. While education can and should be non-partisan, my political leanings are often at odds with WPC's.

BUT... it is hard to read the description of this talk without envy. It strikes me that the most appealing aspect of charters to many folks is not the model itself, but the ability to disregard the existing bureaucracy. What do you think?

Here is the description of Rob Stein's work in Denver:

Rob Stein is the principal of Manual High School, an inner-city school in Denver, Colorado. This school was closed in 2006, as it was the lowest performing school in Colorado. (All kinds of reforms had been tried on the school, and failed.) With Rob Stein (former principal of the best private school in Denver) at the helm, it re-opened in 2007. In March 2009, the Colorado Board of Education granted Stein’s application for Innovation School status.

This status permits Rob Stein and his school leadership team (which includes faculty) to obtain waivers from the most restrictive state regulations and certain provisions of collective bargaining agreements, so they can deliver high-quality education for children. This new model allows Rob Stein to:
* control his school budget, staff and school schedule
* hire teachers on one year contracts
* award multi-year contracts for only the best teachers on staff
* award performance bonuses to teachers
* part-time specialists to teach certain subjects, even if those teachers do not hold a credential
* add time to the school day and double the time spent each day on key subjects
* create interim student assessments
* choose curricula
* create a dynamic leadership team made up of the principal, administrators and faculty

The local school board may revoke an Innovation School plan if, after three years, the academic performance of the students at the school has not improved significantly, so Innovation Schools are accountable for performance.

In other words, they hired a proven instructional leader, gave him the freedom to work with his faculty & community to innovate, and then they will hold him accountable for results. I'm sure there are lots of folks who will shoot holes in this, but... Doesn't this sound a lot like what most of us would like to see in our schools? Do any of our schools, e.g. alternatives or new STEM, have this kind of control? Shouldn't we be able to try this out without having to turn to charters?

The Other Side

(Update and just to make clear - I totally support Prop. 2 - Operations levy. My discussion here is ONLY about Prop. 1 - BTA.)

Just to make sure, why are you voting for the BTA levy?

As a SPS parent and certified (in one way or another) PTSA member, of course my first impulse is to vote YES. I mean, all of us here are regularly saying how there aren't enough resources for so many things and so the district needs money.

So I'll give you a survey at the end and you tell me.

But first, I am curious about how people feel about the building that houses your child's school. Does your school have facilities issues (of a maintenance kind, big or small)?

The district has to figure out somewhere between $35M-$45M in cuts for the budget. I do know that most people want to believe that cuts are made to keep money going to the classroom. But where is the visible proof of that? Is that wishful thinking or can we look at the district budget and say, oh here's where it is? The district makes announcements about trimming the budget "we have a hiring freeze" and then somehow, someone new turns up at the headquarters.

What is interesting to me is while we can agreed that there is waste and inefficiency in all governmental entities, we seem to give schools more of a pass. Can you tell me why you think parents and other voters might feel that way? Isn't fiscal efficiency the real goal? More bang for the buck?

It's funny because when I sat down with a couple of members of the Seattle Times' editorial board recently, they wanted to talk about the district for a long time before we got to the levies. It was a pleasant surprise. So what did I say? Obviously, I said what I think which is that in all the time I have been in this district (with a few short windows of exception), we have always been in churn and always on uneasy financial footing. Always. And I don't just mean lack of money but continuous issues with money.

Superintendents and Board members come and go and everyone, everyone wants to put their stamp on the district and start something new. If I were a teacher or staffer, it would exhaust and frustrate me. And the fact that this district can seemingly never get on a good financial footing makes me wonder. Does our reach exceed our grasp? Can this district not live within its means? Because honestly, that's what it looks like (and I think that's what it especially looks like to the Legislature). If we don't have the money, we just plain don't have the money. On that note, here's the survey:

I'm voting for the BTA levy because... (you can choose more than one)

a) I always vote for school levies
b) we need the money and it doesn't matter to me how they spend it
c) it doesn't make sense to me to vote for one levy and not the other
d) losing a levy sends a bad signal about our district/I consider a levy vote a vote of support for the district
e) if we lose the levy, it might be difficult to regain it back
f) all of the above
g) other (please specify)

One last question. What would be your take on this outcome? The Operations Levy passes but the BTA III levy does not.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thread for Other School Visit Opportunities

It seems there are other school visit opportunities not listed at the district website's page on Open Houses and Visits. Here is one but let me know and I'll update this thread.

Come learn about Sand Point Elementary!
Meet and Greet with Principal Dan Warren
Sand Point Elementary Auditorium
6208 60th Ave NE
Monday Feb. 8
7-8:30 pm
Refreshments will be served

SPE is shaping up to be a great option for families looking for a small school led by a proven leader! To see one review of Dan Warren and his leadership, check Reuven Carlyle's blog, http://reuvencarlyle36.com/, the January 12th entry.

There will be an additional opportunity in March (3/6 9-11 am, children welcome!)
To learn more, please email us at sandpointschoolopening@gmail.com or visit our blog at

Ingraham's IB Information Night
February 10th @ 6:30 p.m.

Open Thread on School Violence

Someone had requested this thread.

I just saw yet another story of school violence, this time at TOPS. Unfortunately, it was characterized as a "brawl" when it was between two students. It also sounds kind of sketchy like the officer who got called - yes, they called the police - couldn't quite figure out the whole story.

So what to make of all this? I'm sure the reality is that on any given day in SPS, with over 10 high schools and 9 middle schools and what? 8 K-8s, that there is likely to be some kind of violence. It's hormonal, high emotion time in middle and high school. I'm not saying that violence is okay but we can't overreact to the fact that it IS a fact of life. Kids get upset and act out.
Does the district keeps accurate stats and if they do, are they available? I don't know. I know the head of security, I could ask her. I wonder if schools have to report everything or just things of a certain uptick factor. Screaming and yelling, no, visible injuries, yes.

If you go on a tour and ask principals, I'm sure you'll get the brush-off. They just don't want to talk about it. I do know that many schools, especially middle schools, have anti-bullying campaigns. You can ask about those.

Rigor at Rainier Beach High School

I was reading the comments in an earlier post about the new assignment plan and there were many comments about the rigor or lack there of at Rainier Beach High School. I would like to dispel the myth that Rainier Beach does not offer rigor to the high achieving student. If you have a high achieving 8th grader and are in the RBHS attendance area, here is just a sample of what you can expect:

In math as a Freshman, you will start in at least Honors Geometry with Ms. Lessig who is our best math teacher. Once you get through that, you will take Honors Advanced Algebra with me, then Pre Calculus with Mr. Bird (a math major in college) and then as a Senior, you take AP Calculus with Ms. Day, a highly experienced and skilled teacher. As a bonus, in either your Junior or Senior year, you get to take AP Statistics with me. All of these classes are demanding and well taught by teachers who know what they are doing and are passionate about teaching math.

In Language Arts, Freshman Honors is an incredibly fulfilling and interesting class taught by Mr. Moriarty. As a Sophomore or Junior, you will take AP Human Geography from Mr. Moriarty again. As a Junior, you will take AP English Lit from Ms. Burks. This class is all that an AP class is cracked up to be.

In Social Studies, you will get the chance to take AP American Government and AP American History, really interesting courses being taught by Ms. Ernst and Ms. Howell respectively, veteran AP Teachers

In Science, we are adding AP Biology (to be taught by Ms. Lin) and AP Chemistry (to be taught by Ms. Jones) for 2010-2011. These are great additions to our course offerings and fill in the gap in out AP offerings.

As you can see, a high achieving student will have plenty of great and interesting courses to academically challenge them. But at RB, we care about the whole child. That is why we also have a focus on the creative arts. We offer a full array of Drama courses, taught by Ms. Linefsky, a nationally known and respected drama teacher and a fledging music program, being built from the bottom up by Mr. Dyson, a dynamic, young teacher with a clear vision of where he wants to take the music program at RB.

I say all of this to inform the people of Seattle, especially SE Seattle. If you don’t want to come to Rainier Beach High School, I can live with that. If you don’t want to come to Rainier Beach High School because you don’t think a high achieving student will be served, then you are misinformed.

I look forward to meeting many of you at the RB Open House on Tuesday, February, 4th at 6:30 PM. I also would like to extend an invitation to visit my classroom (room 266) any time. You don’t need to call ahead, just check in with the front office and someone will either escort you up or I will come to the office and greet you.


So you've had the primer on BEX and BTA. So let's get specific on the BTA and what it will and will not do.

First, some flyer corrections/omissions (some of these given to me by Schools First).

1. Front page under Operations Levy. Voters have not supported the levies every three years "since 1976". There was a gap in the early '90s for capital.
2. Top of page 5 under Technology: the amount for STEM technology was left off - it's $1.1M (or was on the preliminary list)
3. Same page, under Core 24 graduation requirements. It says "...as needed to support new state graduation CORE 24 requirements." That should be PROPOSED new state graduation requirements. CORE 24 isn't law and it's in danger as a bill. Rep. Sharon Tomiko-Santos of Seattle doesn't want it and is fighting it.
4. Page 6 - Meany/Nova enhancements. Odd but SBOC is also in that building. Why wouldn't they be mentioned?

General points:

How the levy breaks down. In simple terms, according to the levy flyer, it's like this:

$270M total, of which
$140M is Buildings
$ 34.9 is Technology
$94.6M is Academics (which is a loose term because it covers a lot)
  • this BTA gets us little in reducing in the nearly $500M maintenance backlog. It attacks maybe 10-15% of it. And remember, maintenance just keeps coming.
  • This BTA would likely do more maintenance for more schools except that (1) the district is bringing 5 schools back into the "open" category and (2) they are spending large amounts for fewer schools and (3) the district has chosen to put money into items that have nothing to do with maintenance (and that doesn't make them bad choices but hard to understand at some level given our maintenance issues).
So let's break out where the money is going (not line by line but with more specifics). As I go through, I'll contrast the preliminary list with the flyer list (because things have changed and I called this to Harium's attention and he didn't know how much things had).

First the "B" Buildings portion of the BTA at $140M.

The real total available for buildings is $108M. The other $32M is for Construction Escalation (calculated as 4% per year for 6 years) which is around $30M and Capital Program Costs (BEX IV planning, election costs, delinquent tax collections) which is around $2M.

So what gets done for $108:
  • $18M for "major preventive maintenance and paintings of buildings" Now this could not have happened in previous BTAs as the state law did not allow painting of certain types to be done under capital levies but the law was changed recently. The state expects that the districts would take care of their basic maintenance under their operating budgets. (And indeed, that is where our maintenance money resides, in the operations budget, but the district doesn't say that in the levy flyer. Not even a mention.) Oh yes and when I asked the head of maintenance about it, he didn't know it was there and had nothing to say. Seems strange no one would let him know so he could start planning.
  • Roof replacement and seismic diaphragm (paneling under the roof structure): $10.7M for 11 buildings. Under the preliminary list this was slated for $17M and 17 buildings. So those other buildings don't need new roofs now? Also there is a bit of confusion because Montlake was on BTA II for a roof and it's here again. Ditto, Washington. Ditto Salmon Bay.
  • Fire suppression/sprinklers/ADA/life safety: $15.5M for 17 projects at 15 buildings. The difference here is on the up side: it was at $12M for 11 buildings on the original list.
  • Seismic mitigation: $13.2M for 3 buildings. The original was for $17.8M at 7 buildings.
  • Energy efficiency and green projects: $27.7M for 6 buildings. This one is quite problematic. The original discussion at the Board Work Session was about trying to do some green projects at schools that needed work but wouldn't be eligible for a BEX redo. (These are John Hay, Olympic View, West Woodland, Adams, Leschi and Muir.) The green roofs and underground heat pumps would cost roughly 3x what a regular redo would. It was stated that the district wouldn't see savings for at least 10, 15, 20 years depending on what kind of green project they did. Several of the Board members felt 15 years out was too much given the cost. Harium told me that he felt there had been some push back from the Board on this issue. The price on the preliminary list for roofs and heat pumps for these 6 schools was $21.6M which seemed like a lot given all our maintenance needs.
So now it's $27.7M for 6 buildings just for heating - 3 underground heat pumps and 3 high efficiency boilers. That's a heck of a lot of money for just 6 projects and they are not even doing roofs. So if you are keeping count, that's 6 roofs taken off the roof replacement list and now add these 6 roofs and that's 12 roofs that were on the original list that now won't be done. That's a lot of schools that the district thought needed a roof
repair/replacement and now are getting nothing.
  • the Capital Eligible Fund which funds routine replacement of equipment for kitchens, gardners, and custodians went from $7M down to $4M. Keep in mind, somehow a John Deere mower managed to disappear from the maintenance yard in the last year.
  • * Communications/security system: $100K for 1 building (Roosevelt). It was $150K originally and had 3 schools on the list. (Oh irony because I fought for four years for this.)
Second, the "T" Technology at $34.9M. Not a lot to say here as we all know the realities of the technology age we live in. You have to keep up and upgrade. However, a few things to note.
  • We pay some salaries out this fund including the head of technology. (Same with BEX.)
  • Harium had been quite unhappy to learn the district had no off-site data storage in case of disaster. There is money in here for that.
  • The first of the money for STEM appears here at $1.1M.

Third, the "A" is Academics at $94.6M. (Historical note: this was originally for Athletics. It morphed into Academics/Athletics and now just Academics as they consider athletics part of academics.) Everything in this list is needed but there are some questions that can be asked.

  • Student Assessments (MAP): $4.3M - this went up from the original list by $300K
  • Core 24 : $3.5M - My comments on this are (1) it's not law and not even near law so it's a lot of money and (2) 7 out of 10 of the comprehensive high schools have or will have very new science labs and computer labs (built within the last 10 years). What exactly do we need and why?
  • Early Learning Classrooms: $3.2M. So how could I be against pre-K learning? I'm not. However, this isn't maintenance and there is no federal or state law compelling this. We also get no state matching money to do it. I wish we would wait and put the money towards maintenance. That's just me.
  • Capacity Management and planning: $48.1M. This is the big one for the 5 reopening buildings. On the one hand, it does clear some maintenance but (1) these buildings were closed and in a different category for care and now they are back on the "open" list and (2) this $48M doesn't clear out the entire backlogged maintenance on these buildings.
  • STEM - $1.6M - the reading of this is vague, mostly to "support creation" of STEM. They claim more science classrooms and computer labs but Cleveland is pretty well equipped as it is.
  • Athletics: $19.2M. The one and only thing you can be sure that gets done on the maintenance schedule: the fields and the tracks. Look, I get we need these fields and tracks and we have an operating agreement with Parks. But there is some irony that the only thing that gets done, on time, every time, is the fields. And there seems some confusion again because it looks like one of these was done under BEX III and yet appears here again. Note: this is not for playgrounds.

So, in some way, every school gets something (and that would be under Technology upgrades that are system-wide). Is it building maintenance per se? I would argue - not really.

So here's one breakdown for how much money is for a small number of buildings:

$48M for 5 reopening buildings
12.2 for Meany
27M for 6 buildings for energy efficient heating
26M for 6 other buildings =

$113M for 18 buildings

Here's how it breaks down per building for actual building maintenance (highest to lowest):

- McDonald $15.4M
- Meany 12.2M
- Viewlands 11.1M
- Salmon Bay 7.5M
- Old Hay 7.5M*
- Rainier View 7.4M
- Sand Point 7.0M
- Ingraham 5.6M**
- Laurelhurst 4.0M
- Lafayette 3.8M
- Eckstein 3.5M
- McGilvra 3.3M

*(SBOC, a middle/high school was in this old elementary building for years with very little done to it. Now, they are gone and they are revamping it and spending a lot of money to upgrade it. It makes you wonder why this wasn't done sooner.)

** Ingraham has been on every single BTA and BEX list since they started. I really feel for this building that has had a lot of piecemeal work done to it and is in danger of losing its BEX III addition. If the next hearing date on the grove of trees causes yet another delay, this project will likely not happen under BEX III.)

School Tour Schedule Up

Here's a link to the Enrollment Services page; click "school visits" in the middle for the list.

I didn't crosscheck the entire list but I think all schools are represented. The number of tours per school? These range from a high of 10(!) at Bailey Gatzert to 0 for STEM at Cleveland (you have to schedule an private appointment to tour). The average for each school looks to be about 3.

Important to note:
  • The dates are ALL over the place. Some schools are doing 1 tour in Feb. and then 1 in March. Some have them all in Feb. or all in March.
  • Many K-8s have dates for K-5 and then a different date for 6-8; be sure to check carefully
  • Many schools say you need to reserve a space first. Check to make sure. (I have to wonder if they really would turn someone away but they might.)
  • Some schools say kids can come. (The issue here is that many people who have elementary-aged students might also have toddlers/babies. It can get noisy on a tour if there are a lot of small children.) For elementaries, some even provide childcare. For middle and high schools, students are welcome to join their parents (but do NOT send them alone. This is a general rule at most high schools and as a former high school tour guide, I agree. Unsupervised teens tend to not behave well on tours especially if they get dropped off with friends.)

Lynne Varner editorial on Education Reform

I don't pay much attention to education reform bills in Olympia. First, I don't think there is much I can do about them. Second, I don't think they have much impact on what happens in schools. Third, I don't think that state legislators have any idea of what should be done or how to do it. Fourth, the legislators will write education reform legislation in response to political pressures, not to improve education.

Yet the League of Education Voters and a lot of other groups are all very involved in these education reform battles in Olympia and a lot of other people seem to think that they are important. So, just in case I'm wrong, reading this editorial may give you some insight into what the fight is over.

Danny Westneat on the Discovery Math case

Danny Westneat wrote a column about the appeal of the high school math textbook adoption now in King County Superior Court. He is dismissive of it.

The comments following the story are more thoughtful than we usually see in the Times.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Interesting New Study on Math

From the Chicago Tribune, a story on University of Chicago research that shows that elementary school girls do poorly in math if their teacher is female (and has math issues). From the story:

"The findings are the product of a year-long study of 17 first- and second-grade teachers and 65 girls and 52 boys who were their students. The researchers found that boys' math performance was not related to their teacher's math anxiety while girls' math achievement was affected."

"At the beginning of the year, the students' achievement was unrelated to their teachers' level of math anxiety. By the end of the year, however, the more anxious their female teachers were about math, the more likely girls--but not boys--were to endorse the view that boys are better at math. Girls who bought into the stereotype scored six points lower in math achievement than other students."

Why is this?

"We are not sure whether it's something overt, whether it's non-verbal behavior or perhaps (teachers are) not spending much time on the subject," said Susan Levine, a psychology and human development professor and co-author of the study "Female Teachers' Math Anxiety Affects Girls' Math Achievement," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this month."

"It's not just a teacher's knowledge of the subject, but there's something about their feeling about the discipline," Levine said."

Another Take on the Levies

This article appeared in Crosscut today. It is probably the more thoughtful of articles on the levies although Mr. Lilly does make a few assumptions. Also the title, "Seattle school levies; thoroughly hated and extremely effective" is over the top. Yes, we hate them because they are work to pass AND the recognition that our state won't pay for basic education. But extremely effective? He'd have to prove that. I give the district a lot of credit for the amount of renovations done but it has steadily slipped from a high of BEX I at about 37 projects to BEX III with about 6 major projects and a few minor. We're doing less with more money. And, of course, then not keeping up the maintenance on these major investments. Yes, that makes perfect sense.

From the article:

"Not surprisingly, school boards choose the classroom over maintenance pretty much every time. This year Seattle will spend only 0.3 percent of its operating budget on upkeep. That’s typical, hence the $500 million backlog."

I had some testy parent throw this at me at a Schools First presentation. But, like Mr. Lilly, that guy could not in any way prove the money went into the classroom. It might have, we might wish it had but then again, it could have gone for consultants or administrators salaries. There is no way of knowing because the district isn't telling (and I asked).

Second, "hence the $500M backlog". Well, that's an easily tossed off bon mot. You don't get to $500M just like that. It takes years of deferring and ignoring maintenance. Geez. (And keep in mind, Lilly's a former Board member and someone who kept this process of keeping the maintenance budget low.)

It's funny how so many in leadership understand this problem (he cites Michael DeBell and Betty Hoagland) and yet want to do nothing about it. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson hasn't uttered a peep (but I guess clearing out a maintenance backlog certainly doesn't polish the resume like opening schools). We can certainly limp along but there will be a critical point where we can't.

What will leadership do then?

Consequences of the New Student Assignment Plan

It was suggested in the post about AP classes, that under the New Student Assignment Plan it might be harder for south-end students to gain access to Ingraham and the IB program there. Why might that be?

Under the old plan Ingraham did not fill. While that makes us wonder why the school needed to expand, it also means that any student from anywhere in the District was certain that they would get an assignment there if they requested it. They had predictability. Ingraham has been very popular with south-end students. There are 143 students there from the Rainier Beach area.

But under the new plan Ingraham will be more full and assignment to the school from outside the attendance area might become uncertain. Who, you might wonder, will be going to Ingraham - and taking up those seats - under the new plan who wouldn't be going to Ingraham under the old plan? Students living north of Ballard who don't already have a sibling at Ballard.

For the next few years I think most of the students who are going to get an assignment to a popular out-of-area school will be those with siblings already in the school. There are a lot of families living north of 85th who could get into Ballard on the old distance tie-breaker but are now outside the school's attendance area. Those who got an older sibling into the school under the old rules will dominate the group of out-of-area students who get into the school under the new rules. For the first few years, there could be more than 40 out-of-area applicants with a sibling in the school so that no out-of-area student will be able to get into Ballard without using the sibling tie-breaker.

A similar dynamic will be at work north of 85th between Roosevelt and Hale which will make it difficult for any student outside the Roosevelt attendance area to get an assignment there without a sibling already in the school.

All of the rest of the students in North Ballard and Crown Hill, who would have gone to Ballard under the old rules, will now be at Ingraham, taking up the seats that used to sit empty and available for south-end students. These Ballard area students don't have a lot more attractive choices than Ingraham, so that's where they are likely to go. As noted, a similar situation will also push a lot of first-borns into Hale. Will the schools fill? Maybe. Maybe not. There's no certainty like there used to be.

But it's nearly a zero net sum deal, isn't it? A student shifting to take a seat also lets go of one. So if more seats are taken up at Ballard, forcing those Crown Hill kids into Ingraham, then seats must open up somewhere else - right? Right. The seats at Ballard that used to go to kids in Crown Hill will now go to kids from Queen Anne and Magnolia. So the seats that the Queen Anne and Magnolia students used to take should now be available. Where are they? Some of them - a lot of them - are at private schools. The greatest number of them in SPS, 103, are at Garfield - 56 in APP there. Those choices probably won't change much as I suspect many of the non-APP students are APP-siblings because nearly all of the QA/M area is outside the limit of the distance tie-breaker for Garfield. I also suppose that the 16 who chose NOVA would make that choice under the new plan.

Of the school choices by students from Queen Anne and Magnolia that are likely to be impacted by the change in the plan, the greatest number of them, 65, are at The Center School. After that, 39 are at Ingraham. 38 at Roosevelt, 32 at Nathan Hale, 7 at West Seattle, 5 at Cleveland, 4 at Sealth, 1 at Franklin and 0 at Rainier Beach.

These numbers and my assumptions lead me to project that when Queen Anne and Magnolia students are assured of access to Ballard High School, that a number of them will enroll at the school who would not have enrolled there under the old rules. This change in enrollment patterns will leave seats available at private schools and at The Center School.

If I were a member of the Center School community, I might be concerned about the size of the incoming freshman class now that families in Queen Anne and Magnolia have certain access to Ballard High School. I would consider intensifying my recruitment efforts and I would focus on Crown Hill.

Every shift brings another.

I'm thinking about four moves ahead here, and the accuracy drops with every jump, so I could be really, really wrong. However, even if I'm close to right, the families living in the south-end who reject the assignment to Rainier Beach might not find space available in the same places they found it under the old plan. It used to be at Franklin and Ingraham, but it may be at STEM, The Center School and West Seattle more. It is unlikely to be at Garfield unless you have a child there already. The end of the distance tie-breaker won't open up Ballard and Roosevelt until the sibling tie-breaker runs it course.

There are 56 APP students from QA/M at Garfield and another 47 QA/M students also there. Even if some of those 47 are not APP siblings - say only 35 of them are, if that ratio holds for other APP families, then there is reason to believe that for 400 APP students there would be over 225 APP siblings wanting to enroll at Garfield. There will be room for only 160 out-of-area students at Garfield, so non-siblings wouldn't have a chance.

Blocked access to Garfield would fill Franklin. A full Franklin would deny access to students from the Rainier Beach attendance area. Franklin has been the most popular high school choice for Rainier Beach area families. Many more students from the Rainier Beach area are enrolled at Franklin (548) than are enrolled at Rainier Beach (255). That can't continue under the new plan.

It's unclear how families in the south-end will respond to the new student assignment plan. Will just as many as ever seek high school assignment outside the area or will more of them accept the assignment to Rainier Beach? They have really been pouring out of there. See this map.

I don't think Franklin area students be able to get into Garfield very easily because most of the seats set aside for out-of-area students at Garfield will go to siblings of APP students. Also, Franklin inherits most of the students from the Cleveland area. A full Franklin cannot accept students from the Rainier Beach area in anything like the numbers they have been coming. Also, like I have been writing, the improved academic outcomes at South Cluster elementary schools is now being seen at Mercer and will soon appear at Franklin. Public opinion of Franklin will improve and people will begin to accept assignment to Franklin in higher numbers - particularly when they are shut out of Garfield.

So where will Rainier Beach families who reject that assignment find an available seat? Best guesses right now: STEM, The Center School, and West Seattle. I'm less sure about Ingraham and Hale. Sealth is looking very full under the new plan and I'm thinking there won't be space for non-siblings at Ballard or Roosevelt for years or ever at Garfield.

To choose STEM is to choose significantly higher graduation requirements. They may go for this; they may not. Presumably the families rejecting Rainier Beach are looking for something else; maybe it's STEM. It has the advantage of being close - they can get there on the 106. The Center School is also easy to reach, but it has a non-standard curriculum which isn't for everyone. West Seattle is a conventional choice, but it could be hard to access. You might have to go downtown first and then take a 55 bus to Admiral.

In April we'll know how many Rainier Beach attendance area families accept their default assignment to Rainier Beach and how many reject it and participate in Open Enrollment. In May we'll know where they found space. Everything until then is merely conjecture, but if I lived in the Rainier Beach attendance area, I would go to Open Houses for STEM, The Center School, and West Seattle.

Levy story in the Times

The Seattle Times ran a brief story today about the upcoming levies. Mel was quoted.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Somali Outreach in West Seattle

Great story from our friends over at the West Seattle Blog about Denny Middle School's principal, Jeff Clark, and his efforts on outreach to the Somali community which a growing population at his school.

From the story:

"According to Denny principal Jeff Clark, this was the third weekend that Denny has housed a new program partnering with local Somali families – a cultural education program in which the families use the school building on Saturday and Sundays, as a supplement to regular school. Clark says Denny will probably have about 100 Somali students next year; he pointed out that district managers announced recently in West Seattle (mentioned in this story) that Somali is now the second most common non-English language in the district."

and this great partnering with other community groups:

"Part of this new phase in encouraging Somali families’ closer involvement with the schools involves partnership with Neighborhood House, parent organization of the new Neighborhood Center at High Point, which was the site of a meeting two weeks ago (WSB coverage here) giving local families – many of them Somali – a chance to hear from and speak to local school officials (attendees included the principals of Denny and WS Elementary, as well as high-ranking district managers)."

AP Tough on Kids (Is That What It's Really For)?

Eye-opening video from NY Times on AP and its pressure on students.

Isn't AP supposed to get kids working hard and ready for college?

Or is it a rush through too much content that no student can really master?

It saves you money if you make a 4 or 5 on the test and you can skip some college classes.

Or is it a rush to have the perfect college application?

Is it a money machine?

Have we been duped?

This video is a little short and a little short-sighted. You could make a video of the opposite side as well. AP has real faults but yes, it does pace out at a college rate. There are colleges that don't want an SAT or ACT score but I've never heard of one that doesn't give a higher ranking if you took AP.

I don't believe any high school here expects any "signed contract" as in the video. Some say you have to take the test but don't enforce it. (It does cost $83 and the free/reduced reduction isn't that much lower so it's not possible to make a kid take it who doesn't have the money to do so.)

It is one of those "it's here but does it really work and what else do we have" problems.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Times Weighs in Again (But Let's Talk Reality)

In their never-ending quest to explain to us how wise all the district/Board's decisions are, the Times had an editorial on the grandfathering of siblings. I love the title, "Sibling Preference, Yes, but no guarantees" simply because the district's previous goal had been to keep siblings together so there is some irony that is lost on the Times.

"The Seattle School Board isn't unsympathetic to parents with more than one child in the public schools, but the board is right to make no guarantees that siblings can be with older brothers and sisters when new school assignments take place next fall.

These parents are caught between a rock and a hard place. Participating in two schools can be inconvenient."

I think inconvenient is an understatement for many families.

Now the Times manages to leave a couple of things out. They mention the steps the district is taking to manage enrolling as many sibs as possible but leave out the possibility that some schools could lose all-day K and probably won't let families know until after Open Enrollment. That's kind of big and more than a little inconvenient.

"There won't be portables on every inch of open space and the district must be mindful of the strain that overcrowding places on the cafeteria, plumbing and other parts of a school."

I will just point out that this strain on buildings may only be for a couple of years according to the district. But the corollary to that is that many of the buildings aren't in the best shape to begin with so the strain could be more apparent.

"Imagine: In a household with a third-grader, incoming kindergartner and a newborn, a sibling preference could go on for a decade or more."

And here they get it wrong because the attempt to grandfather siblings is for incoming K's, not younger non-attendance sibs for years to come.

But okay folks, let's leave the Times' out of it for now. This is just us parents. I am speaking from a place of no personal impact and am aware of that fact.

I am personlly quite disappointed that the Board didn't protect parents and say no to this Transition Plan for one reason only. That reason is the fact that two new (and huge) items were put in on a Friday of a holiday weekend for a vote the next Wednesday. The Board should have simply said, "No, we will vote in two weeks. We have a process of transparency here and while we may end up agreeing with these two items, we will not vote on them in such a short timeframe. We will be aware of parents and their concerns and the appropriate notification will happen." End of story.

But that didn't happen. We have a new Student Assignment Plan and Transition Plan. With all due respect to each individual family and their story, that is the reality. We won't know, really know, for about 3-4 years how this plan will shake out based on what decisions families will make. (I didn't pick that number; I heard Director Martin-Morris say this today and he also said it would be bad policy to tweak the boundaries any earlier.) I am sure that there are many parents who will strain mightly to try to figure out the best choice to write down for their child's enrollment.

I feel for all of you. I heard the exhaustion and disappointment in the voices of parents at the Board meeting who felt they had done all they could. I heard the frustration today at Harium's meeting by one parent who pointed out in the Group 3 list of schools that will have capacity issues even before any K sibs are considered. I agree; how could the boundaries be correctly drawn if you have capacity issues even before any tiebreakers?

How could the Board have accepted all this uncertainty as part of the new plan?

But they have.

So go to the tours, go through the Open Enrollment process and see what happens. Get your assignment letter but realize, please realize, that there is a lot in flux. Don't hang all your hopes that you will get what you want but also, don't give up. I predict a lot of movement of waitlists. (And, given that they aren't asking for a reply from the automatic assignments, the district really has no way of knowing how many of those will really stand.)

And, a little advice from someone who has changed schools several times and has put two kids through SPS. It will be all right. There are no guarantees for perfect (and you know that from your own school experience right now). But you would be surprised at the number of people who didn't want an assignment (I hear this from John Rodgers people a lot) but turned out to really be happy.

Remember that your child will take their cue from you. There are life lessons to be learned from challenges and change. As I said previously, let this be a lesson learned about how the district and the Board will back up parents. But also remember to believe in your school even if you don't trust the district and the Board. I am not asking you to move on but to look forward.

Take a deep breath. One thing that works for me when I have something tough to face is to imagine a year from now. What do you imagine life will be like in a year? This churn should be behind us and we'll all have some idea of how this is working. Your child will be in school, maybe a new school, maybe not. But I'll bet it will be okay even if different.

The (Nearly Daily) STEM Update of 1/23/2010

STEM Open House this morning began with people drifting around a gym filled with booths from STEM "partners". The skeptical quotes are because many of the groups represented, such as UW School of Dentistry, didn't actually have any plans to partner with STEM.

At 10:00 the presentation began with Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson reading powerpoint slides to the audience. When will she stop doing that? Why does she do it? Does she think that we can't read? Does she have nothing to add? It creates the impression that this is the first time that she is seeing the slides. The woman commits death by powerpoint at every opportunity.

Not only was the superintendent there, but so was Susan Enfield, the CAO, and Michael Tolley, the High Schools Director, and, oddly, Don Kennedy, the CFOO. Two school board directors attended, Sherry Carr and Peter Maier. I was disappointed that the Director for the Southeast, Betty Patu, was not there.

They ran through a slide presentation and then people could continue to wander among the booths in the gym, visit classrooms, or attend and Q & A session. I went to the Q & A.

First, the Open House was well-attended. I'd say that if you distilled it down there were about 100 rising eighth graders represented. I'm ready to increase my estimate for STEM freshman enrollment to 50-100. In the Q & A some people asked "What if the school fills up?" or "What if the academy my child wants is full?" I don't think they have anything to worry about.

I would also say that there were not 10 black students in that group. About half of the crowd was Asian and the rest, except for a handful of Latinos, were white. The student population in that building is going to change and I honestly don't think that the school or the district are at all ready for it. Right now, Cleveland is 46% African-American. Right now, the bulk of Cleveland students come to the school working below grade level. That was Cleveland. STEM, on the other hand, is going to be predominantly Asian and the bulk of students will come to the school working at or beyond grade level.

The staff don't really seem to be ready for that. For example, when asked about freshmen taking world languages to continue the work they started in middle school, the academic dean said that historically they don't get many incoming students who took a foreign language in middle school. That reflects a poor understanding of the fact that Cleveland history is over and STEM history is going to be different. Likewise with music. I just don't think they are ready for the kind of students they are going to be getting.

The Cleveland staff also seem strangely reluctant to mix grades. They would say things like "Sure, a 9th grader could take a world language, but they would be in a class full of older students." as if this represented any sort of problem or concern at all. It doesn't. They acted like it was some kind of extraordinary accommodation for a freshman to take Geometry in a class of sophomores. It's not. I just don't think it has been happening much at Cleveland before this.

I get the feeling that the district, and some others, don't want the school to change. The speakers kept saying, over and over, that students can come to STEM even if they are struggling with math or science. They repeated that message a lot. All skill levels are welcome. The problem, of course, is that very few students who struggle with math will want to take extra math. If they come to STEM they will be taking double math for years. They will have to take double math as a freshman because they are behind, then they will have to take double math in the 10th grade to get ahead. Plus additional math if they are still having trouble. Some of the groups that have been partnering with Cleveland, such as L.A.M.P., also told me that they will work to reduce the change in the demographic. by encouraging low performing students - and particularly African-American students - to enroll.

They don't seem to be ready for transfers. I heard something in their voices that made me think that a lot of Cleveland students will be leaving the school after this year, that not many of the current 9th graders want to stay and be a part of STEM and that not many of the current 10th and 11th graders want to stay and be part of the College Readiness Academy. I don't have any numbers - I don't think they do either - but there was this weird ring of fear in their voices when answering questions about that. They said that students could, of course, come to Cleveland or leave it at any grade.

The cut in the budget - and the resulting loss of the extended day for all students - will have significant impacts on the schedule. There will be fewer opportunities for students to take electives and they will have to take most of them either before or after school. Again, I don't think they appreciate how many students this will be. The extended day will be required of students who struggle with the math or science. That will constrain those students' opportunity to take electives or participate in extra-curricular activities. STEM has higher graduation requirements than the rest of Seattle Public Schools, including four years of math, Calculus (which requires a fifth year of math for students who are the standard pace), four years of science, four years of language arts, two years of world languages, and three years of social studies. That's 18 credits right there. They also still have their P.E., arts, and CTE requirements as well. It is essentially CORE 24 plus a fifth year of math. I'm not sure how students are going to be able to do all of this in a six-period day in four years.

Neither are they. The schedule and the scheduling remains an unsolved puzzle. They were having trouble with it before WITH the extended day and they are having even more trouble with it now. They can't figure out how to accommodate music or world languages for 9th and 10th grade students. They say that the NTN has resources and sample schedules that will help with this.

Transportation is also proving a challenge. Cleveland is poorly served by METRO. The only bus that goes there is the 60 which runs only twice an hour and goes to Georgetown in the south and First Hill and Capitol Hill in the north. It doesn't go to any major transfer points. There is a light rail station on Beacon Hill, but it's a half-hour walk from the school. The 36 offers frequent service, but has its closest stop about twenty minutes' walk from the school. A shuttle service that runs from the school to the light rail station with a stop for transfers from the 36 would be helpful, but they just heard the idea today. They can't promise yellow bus service in advance, but will provide it if there are enough students from a neighborhood who have enrolled at the school. That's not much assurance.

I don't know how much trouble they are having with the budget. They say that they need $1.6 million to fund the first two years and that they have all but $180,000 of it. They say that once they have the school up and running they will qualify for all kinds of grants. They acted very confident about the money, but they also cut the extended day to reduce costs. I can't really say that I trust them on this.

Finally, one last item on the negative side, a father of a current Cleveland 11th grader said that his son enrolled when Cleveland had three academies. Then the next year the school had only two academies. Now the school is putting his son and all of the other upper-classmen into one academy. Given this track record, he asked why anyone should sign up for STEM not knowing if the District would sustain the commitment to the program. It was a sticky question for the staff to answer, in large part because none of them had been with the school or, in some cases, the District, for as long as three years. They could only say that they had the bulk of the funding in hand for two years.

On the positive side: STEM will offer "wall-to-wall" project-based learning. The teachers have been getting exposure to this teaching style all year. That means that although they will have the District-approved textbooks as a resource, it is unlikely to be even the primary material used in the math classes. They have been told that so long as they cover the knowledge and skills required by the District-adopted curriculum, there won't be any conflict between STEM's project based learning and the District's curriculum alignment effort.

So on one hand you have a building that isn't really ready for the change that is coming in the students, but they are more ready with the lessons than I had thought, they are nearly there with the budget, which may be close enough, they haven't figured out the schedule, but it looks like they will, and they don't know how they will get the kids to the school. None of these are insurmountable obstacles. On the good side is project-based learning, lots of science, and an escape from Discovery math.

STEM looks better and better to me and my family. My daughter is looking for a small school, and I am convinced that STEM will be small. She is looking for project-based learning and they are definitely going to have that. She wants to escape the "Discovery" math, and it looks like STEM will offer an escape from it. She is looking for a lot of science, and oh boy will she have that. I think she is going to LOVE the project-based learning. Transportation isn't a problem because we live close and she doesn't care that music opportunities will be constrained because she isn't interested in music. I really can't imagine a better fit for her.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Odds and Ends

Just to be clear about the grandfathering of siblings, here's the official word from the SPS News and Calendar piece on the Transition Plan:

In-coming kindergarten siblings:
The School Board and staff at Seattle Public Schools have a sincere desire to enable incoming, non-attendance area kindergarten siblings to be assigned to the same school as their older sibling if requested by the family. While we are not able to guarantee sibling grandfathering, we are fully committed to making every reasonable effort to accommodate as many kindergarten siblings as possible in their older sibling's school. The Transition Plan outlines a series of steps to accomplish that goal. For families whose preference for the Kindergarten sibling to attend the older child's school cannot be honored, we are committed to a "safety net" so the students will not have to attend a different school. (bold and italics mine)

STEM Open House @ Cleveland
Saturday, January 23, 2010
9:30 am – 12:00 pm
5511 15th Avenue South
A continental breakfast will be served starting at 9:30 am. Presentations will start at 10:00 am.

Also, STEM will be one topic at the Board Work Session next Wednesday, from 4-6:30 p.m. Also on that agenda is High School Reform/Language Arts.

Interesting article from the South Seattle Beacon on STEM. From the article:

"With about 700 students, Cleveland supports 300 students below its capacity, but principal Princess Shareef said the decision was not based on the enrollment numbers.

"We could function as a comprehensive high school, but with the new assignment plan, the reality is there are more students living in the Rainier Beach [High School] area and Franklin [High School] area than live in the Cleveland area," shareef said. "Therefore, it makes sense to have Rainier Beach and Franklin be comprehensive high schools and have Cleveland as an option school."

Charlie, anyone, help me out here. I hadn't understood that there are not enough students in the Cleveland area to fill the school. My understanding had been that there are many students between RBHS and Cleveland who leave to go to other high schools and, if they all came back, both schools would be nearly full.


"What I'm concerned about is that I want a balanced program; I want the school to remain diverse. The teachers and families want it to remain diverse, but when we have community meetings, families from our community haven't been showing up," Shareef explained. "I want the Beacon Hill community to understand what is going to be happening here and for them to consider having their kids be students here."

And this:

"I don't get a feel for the community around Cleveland. When we've offered, I haven't seen this particular community be involved," Shareef said. "I don't know if they know about it and know how to access it - that's a big concern for me. I want everyone to be able to access it."

If she is expressing concern over neighborhood outreach, then I hope the district is helping her.

Board Director Community Meetings

(Update: A reader said Harium's blog had a meeting tomorrow; I was going with the Board calendar at the district. So give it a try, I suppose.)
Jan 23 2010 (Sat)
Diva Espresso Lake City Way & 80th NE
9:30 AM to 11:30 AM

There are none scheduled for this weekend. I hope that we see a couple of Board members at the STEM presentation.

Math Adoption Lawsuit (here's a link to their webpage)

Seattle, Washington – January 21, 2010 – A hearing is set for Tuesday,
January 26th, at 8:30 AM, in Room W 842 of the King County Courthouse.
The courthouse is located at 516 3rd Avenue, Seattle. Judge Julie
Spector will hear the the appeal of a Seattle School Board vote last May
to adopt the Discovering Mathematics high school textbook series. The
appellants contend that the school district acted arbitrarily and
capriciously by voting 4 to 3 to adopt a type of textbook associated
with a widening achievement gap between minority students and white
students, and between low-income and other students.

Aki Kurose Middle School

Southmom asked for a posting about the middle schools in the South. I've been writing for some time about how it is unreasonable for us to expect Rainier Beach High School to show strong academic achievement among its students when they arrive at the school working below grade level. Many of those students are coming from Aki Kurose middle school.

Aki Kurose is the middle school in the Southeast Education Initiative. Academically it is in terrible shape. The WASL pass rates are abysmal.
Aki Kurose WASL pass rates, 2009:
6th Grade Math: 30.8%
6th Grade Reading: 61.9%
District Average 6th Grade Math (comprehensive middle schools): 60.6%
District Average 6th Grade Reading(comprehensive middle schools): 76.1%

7th Grade Math: 22.5%
7th Grade Reading: 45.8%
District Average 7th Grade Math (comprehensive middle schools): 59.6%
District Average 7th Grade Reading(comprehensive middle schools): 64.4%

8th Grade Math: 38.6%
8th Grade Reading: 63.7%
District Average 8th Grade Math (comprehensive middle schools): 56.2%
District Average 8th Grade Reading(comprehensive middle schools): 71.7%

It gets worse when you explore the numbers deeper. Here are the distribution of scores:
6th grade math
10.8% Level 4 (exceeds standard) - 13 students
19.2% Level 3 (met standard) - 23 students
0.8% Basic (met standard) 1 student
16.7% Level 2 (below standard) 20 students
52.5% Level 1 (well below standard) 63 students

Over half of the students entering Aki Kurose are working well below standard in math. Over half aren't even close to grade level.

In the 7th grade, 61.7% of the students received Level 1 scores. Three out of five Aki Kurose 7th graders are working far below grade level in math. That is twice the concentration for the District as a whole. Among all 7th graders in Seattle, 29.1% got Level 1 scores on the math WASL.

In the 8th grade, the Level 1 percentage last year was only 35.4%, while 24.1% of the students received Level 2 scores. This could represent impressive change since the majority of 8th graders in previous years were in Level 1 (62.1% in 2007 and 53.2% in 2008). Or it could just be a statistical blip. We'll see if they can sustain it.

Let's think about this. We are encouraged and impressed that only 35.4% of Aki Kurose 8th graders did horribly on the math portion of the WASL. At Madison, Hamilton, and McClure, that number is between 18 and 24%. The District rate - all 8th graders - is 24.1% in Level 1.

Aki Kurose is in Step 5 of sanctions under No Child Left Behind as it has been for two years. It would be in Step 6, but 5 is the highest level. The school was supposed to have been "restructured". Neither the school nor the District prepared nor implemented a restructuring plan for Aki Kurose. It turns out that no one actually enforces this law, but Aki Kurose should have been closed, re-invented, and re-opened. No one is doing anything in response to NCLB and no one cares. For all those who think that NCLB would mean corporate takeover of schools, it turns out that it is just like everything else in the culture of public K-12 education - unenforced and unenforcable.

In case you're wondering, yes, Aki Kurose, like all middle schools except for Madison, officially has a Spectrum program. There are two Spectrum students at Aki Kurose. Count them: 2. I can't help wondering what sort of program the school provides for these two students. I can't help wondering why the District chooses to pretend that there is any program at all. I can't help wondering who they think they are fooling.

Aki Kurose had a revolving door of leadership of late. For the 2006-07 school year and for many years before, the principal was Bi Hoa Caldwell. For 2007-08 the principal was Ana Ortega. For 2008-2009 the principal was Mia Williams (interim), and for this year Ms Williams has been named the long-term principal. The superintendent chose Ms Ortega, despite the recommendation of another candidate by the hiring committee. Ms Ortega lasted one year.

For the past three years, Aki Kurose has had an extended school day paid for with Southeast Initiative money. There has been no assessment made of the effectiveness of this strategy. Aki also spent Southeast Initiative money to buy a Springboard curriculum from the College Board, but I can't find any description of what that is. There has been no assessment made of the effectiveness of this program.

Aki Kurose is terribly under-enrolled. There were 561 students enrolled as of the October 1, 2009 count. This is a big increase over the previous year when the enrollment was 434. The increase is largely due to the closures of the African-American Academy, Meany, and Summit K-12. The school has a functional capacity of 842. That means it is under-capacity by 281. So why does it have portables? Only 73.4% of Aki's 6th and 7th grade students of last year returned to the school. This is the lowest return percentage in the District. The average is 80.6%. Only 39 students, 19.4% of those enrolled, named Aki as their first choice for assignment.

Can Aki Kurose offer a full range of classes? Apparently so. I see that Aki does teach Algebra as an 8th grade honors math class. It is taught in a 100-minute block. The math department is also bolstered by having Rosalind Wise there as a math coach. There is one World Languages teacher, who apparently teaches Spanish. No other world languages are offered. Mercer is the only other middle school that offers only one world language. Aki Kurose has a full-time Theater Arts teacher.

Aki has a lot of staff. There are two assistant principals, four counselors, a school psychologist, and a mental health provider.

Discipline is an issue at Aki Kurose. Last year, 20.3% of the students were suspended. The District average was 12.1%. Three students were expelled. Districtwide last year only 10 middle school students were expelled and four of those came from Madison. The attendance rate at Aki is only 86.3%, the lowest in the district.

These are the facts about Aki Kurose Middle School. This is where Rainier Beach High School students come from and are going to come from. The entire attendance area for Rainier Beach High School, except for a thin strip west of Beacon, is contained within the attendance area for Aki Kurose middle school. Some Aki students, those living north of Morgan and those living north of Othello and west of Rainier, are in the Franklin attendance area.

Of course, just as it is unreasonable for us to expect Rainier Beach High School to take in students working at the 6th grade level and bring them up to the 10th grade level in a year and a half, it is unreasonable to expect Aki Kurose to take in students working at the 3rd grade level bring them up to the 7th grade level in a year and a half. The interventions need to come much earlier and they need to happen at Dunlap, Emerson, Brighton and Wing Luke.

Other South Seattle elementary schools are having success with similar demographics. Maple is the best-known case, but Kimball, Dearborn Park, Van Asselt and Muir are also doing well. The continued failures are unacceptable. This is where the District should be making investments. This is where the District should be providing intensive interventions. It is a mystery to me that they are not, and I have to believe that decades of ineffective representation on the Board is a contributing factor.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Good News from the District

From Communications:

Seattle Education Foundation officials will present a $20,000 grant check to Dr. Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent, on January 21 at Olympic Hills Elementary School. Funds from the grant – ranging from $134 to $1,000 – will be distributed to 25 Seattle Public Schools teachers and benefit students throughout the District. Click here for list.

The presentation will take place in the classroom of one of the grant recipients, Paul Brown, a second-/third-grade teacher at Olympic Hills. Another grant recipient from the school, kindergarten teacher Jennifer Johnson, will be joining Brown for the presentation.

The Seattle Education Foundation awards the grants to prekindergarten through Grade 12 teachers for proposals in innovative activities that will improve and enhance the quality of education for Seattle Public Schools students. The foundation has distributed approximately $500,000 to SPS educators over the past 20 years.

Thanks to the Seattle Education Foundation for this grant. The money is well spread through out the district but not to a lot of different schools. Sixteen schools got about $1,000 each so that explains it. It doesn't say how many schools applied.