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Monday, March 15, 2010

Quality Schools

It has been, for some time now, the District's contention that they are working to "make every school a quality school". This is a significant goal of the Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All", and a pre-requisite for the New Student Assignment Plan.

So one might wonder how the District defines a "quality school". In fact, many more than one might wonder about it. The entire freakin' city might wonder about it. Well, they can just go on wondering because the District doesn't have an answer.

That's right. They have been ostensibly working for two years now towards a goal that they have not defined. Although the District defines accountability as having objectively measurable goals and insists that everyone is accountable, there are no objectively measurable goals tied to the definition of a "quality school". This would appear to be an intentional effort to evade accountability. Not only are there no objectively measurable goals, there are no metrics, no benchmarks, and no assessments. Nice, eh?

The indominable Ms Fionnuala O'Sullivan has been in communication with the District's Chief Academic Officer, Susan Enfield, with the goal of gathering this elusive definition and has received only this collection of bumper-stickers as a response:
SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT IN SEATTLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
MAKING EVERY SCHOOL A HIGH QUALITY SCHOOL

OVERVIEW
Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is committed to ensuring that every school is an excellent school which offers our students high quality instruction, strong leadership, and excellent instructional materials. A school performance framework guides how we provide supports and interventions to individual schools. This includes:
* Clear performance goals
* Measurement tools & transparency of progress
* Supports and interventions based on performance, with a focus on leadership, instruction, materials and programs, and use of time

The district’s goals are defined and tracked in an annual district scorecard. Beginning this fall, a similar tool called school reports will be shared at the individual school level.

DETAIL
· District-level Improvement: In November 2009, the district scorecard was released showing how our students are performing on a range of indicators – from test scores to graduation rates. SPS is also defining and measuring key operational metrics that show how district services like transportation, maintenance and nutrition services directly support our schools.

· School-level Improvement: School reports are annual snapshots of individual school performance on the same academic measures that are on the district scorecard. To track student progress throughout the year, schools are using Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments, which provide teachers, principals and students with real-time information on math and reading performance. The district is using school performance data to group schools based on how much growth they are making year-to-year and how they are performing overall. These groupings allow the district to provide differentiated responses – specific, predictable interventions, supports and recognition for schools based on their performance and need.

· Individual/Staff-level Improvement: Finally, new individual performance evaluations were rolled out to many central office employee groups, and additional support for evaluating school-based staff is also being provided.

This approach means that support, resources and interventions are being provided to schools based on actual performance and need. School performance and growth trends will be widely shared – schools and their communities will understand what is working well, what areas need more support and what the district is prepared to do in response. Schools needing the most support will receive it; schools that are excelling for all students will be recognized. Annually the district will report on performance at every school, and the public will be able to clearly track school and district progress.

SEVEN AREAS OF A HIGH QUALITY SCHOOL
Seattle Public Schools believes that to improve student performance, we must address seven important areas that help students learn. All schools will develop Continuous School Improvement Plans that include specific tactics to support each of the seven areas. The Plans will also set student goals for improving student achievement and tracking student progress throughout the school year. These plans will be made available to the public. While the district will support academic improvement at all schools, special focus will be given to support and direct the work of struggling schools to improve student achievement.

1. Effective Teaching
· Recruit teachers with the skills and experience needed to transform a school
· Require training for teachers on how tailor teaching to specific student needs
· Provide instructional coaching for teachers
· Use curricular materials and tests aligned to state standards
· Use common assessments to track student learning on a daily and weekly basis

2. Effective School Leadership
· Recruit principals who have shown improved student achievement
· Focus principal time on helping teachers by visiting classrooms, leading teacher training and working with instructional coaches
· Provide on-site support for day-to-day management of the school

3. More School Time for Students & Teachers
· Give struggling students more learning time within the school day, before school, or after school
· Provide time for teachers to meet regularly in teams for focused learning time

4. Professional Opportunities and Recognition for Teachers
· Effectively evaluate teachers on their teaching practices and on how much students learn, based on clearly defined measures
· Provide promotional opportunities for teachers excelling in their practice
· Recognize whole-school progress of student learning

5. Culture to Support Teaching and Learning
· Develop a shared set of beliefs and high expectations for students and staff
· Define clear student achievement goals understood by all staff, students, and parents
· Set explicit school-wide behavioral policies and frequent use of discipline and attendance data to support students

6. Engaged Families and Community
· Family Engagement Action Teams in place at every school to involve families in their children’s education
· Involve families in regular celebrations of student learning
· Communicate with families through The Source, weekly classroom newsletters and monthly whole-school newsletters from principals to families

7. Arts Opportunities
· Provide instrumental music instruction in 4th and 5th grade
· Train teachers on visual arts curriculum
· Communicate with families on arts education through arts e-newsletter

HOW SPS IS SUPPORTING THE SEVEN AREAS OF A QUALITY SCHOOL

1. Effective Teaching
* Training principals on how to lead Professional Learning Communities of teachers to study and take action on student data
* Using Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) data to teachers to track what students are learning during the school year
* Textual materials aligned to state standards in math, and training on how to use the materials
* Mentoring for new teachers
* Instructional coaching for teachers
* High-Leverage Teaching Moves - eight research-based strategies shown to encourage high-level thinking and problem-solving - across all content areas

2. Effective School Leadership
* Superintendent’s Initiative for Leadership Development training for principals
* Professional Learning Communities of principals led by the Center for Educational Leadership, University of Washington

3. More School Time for Students & Teachers
* Extra learning time for students in struggling schools

4. Professional Opportunities and Recognition for Teachers
* Consistent Professional Development Plan for all teachers outlining a continuum of learning across the district
* Required, paid training for all teachers
* Opportunities for elementary math teachers to become Teacher Leaders
* Opportunities for advancement for teachers in School Improvement Grant schools (to be negotiated with Seattle Education Association)

5. Culture to Support Teaching and Learning
* New Continuous School Improvement Plan tool for schools to set measurable goals and track progress on student achievement
* Weekly attendance tracking reports for principals to monitor and take action on student absences

6. Engaged Families and Community
* Family Engagement Action Teams supported by central office and principals

7. Arts Opportunities
* Work with funders and arts organizations to build on successful after-school arts programs
* Train teachers on how to integrate arts and literacy instruction
* Increase students’ access to arts education through community partnerships
* Expand current partnerships to bring arts professionals into the classroom to connect with planned curricular units

In short, the District has no way of knowing whether a school is a quality school, no way of measuring school quality, no way of measuring changes in school quality, no established benchmarks for school quality, and no means for improving school quality. They don't even have a rationale for the bumper-stickers.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just want to know who writes this stuff.

I am truly impressed that one can use so many words to say so little. And they're big words to.

Melissa Westbrook said...

It is absolutely terrible that we have had this continuing "line" for years now with no definition. Why? Because (1) defining a "quality" school would take real thought (2) if we had a definition, well, then we'd have to examine every school and we'd found out who doesn't have a quality school and (3) they would be a lot of explaining to do.

And the Board? Where are they in all this? No one holds the Superintendent accountable but this is their job. If the Superintendent is trying to rack up bullet points on her resume (and this is my take on her activities because we've had a lot of churn but what outcomes? what results?), then the least the Board can do is hold her to her words.

We should all make a commitment in the future to electing Board members who hold this Superintendent, any superintendent to their promises/goals. That - really - should be the number one question we ask them (beyond why do you think you are qualified).

grousefinder said...

Here is something to contemplate. If MAP will be the assessment of record, then I am wondering why SPS is testing way before the end of the year for test #3.

Here is the quote: "The Spring MAP Testing window will occur from April 19 – May 7."

For many grades a huge chunk of the math curriculum comes in May. Usually, the end of year skills are those that require the greatest application of early-in-the-year fundamentals. (Example: Dividing decimals after dividing fractions.)

With these testing dates students will essentially be assessed before they are done with their coursework. That makes no sense. Not to mention that a week later they must then take the MSP.

Huh? How do we assess student progress at year's end before "year's end?" It's like saying we will judge your school based on 7/8ths of the math and reading the students complete.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Still... the 7 focus areas give more detail than they've given in the past. I like that it includes the expected (e.g. principals & teacher effectiveness) but also key areas like family engagement and arts & music that have seemed like low priorities. Can they really put teeth behind these? Their track record doesn't inspire confidence, but if they somehow did, then I think it would be a step in the right direction. And, it would be nice to not just hold site-based staff accountable for demonstrating an effect on student improvement, but also central staff.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Which is not to say that I disagree with the other comments, it's just a combination of (A) my expectations were so low, and (B) i'm trying hard to cling to optimism. Bottom line: As a parent, I'm happy to hear that there will be a focus on leadership & teaching for every school, and every school should have family engagement, art & music. Do others disagree with these areas, or is it just that you believe they won't have a system that actually holds anyone accountable for these areas in a meaningful, student-focused way? If the latter, then maybe we should focus our feedback accordingly.

seattle citizen said...

Whither goest the "quality" as funding is drastically cut?

"Hold teachers accountable" to "quality" whilst removing
a) funds for remedial classes;
b) funds to make class sizes smaller to allow differentiation;
c) funds for counslors to help in RTI

It's almost as if they want teachers to be held accountable to impossible standards in order to undermine public teachers even more...

Nah, that would never happen. As teachers are increasinly help accountable for standardized test scores in Math and Reading (ah, those lucky art teachers!)surely funding will be increased to support the new initiatives that demand more individualized attention to students. I mean, that would make sense, right? Isn't the new definition of a "quality" teacher one that reaches every student's level so as to bring them up on the MAP and WASL? Surely teachers would get these much-vaunted assists in this work?

Dontcha think?

Charlie Mas said...

Andrew writes: "As a parent, I'm happy to hear that there will be a focus on leadership & teaching for every school, and every school should have family engagement, art & music."

Andrew, we don't know that there will be a focus on anything. The lip service paid in this document doesn't commit the District to anything and doesn't commit schools to anything. Likewise for the family engagement, art and music. There is no commitment here, only lip service.

When people are committed to something they make commitments. When people are not committed to something they pay it lip service. I find the empty blather of this document not only unhelpful but actually damaging to my optimism.

zb said...

So, how would this look written by Charlie (or Melissa)?

How do we have verifiable objectives and plans in such a document?

Melissa Westbrook said...

"...it's just a combination of (A) my expectations were so low, and (B) i'm trying hard to cling to optimism."

Andrew, I think, sadly, that this sums up what many, many parents in this district feel. Low expectations and yet trying, wanting to believe in our schools (especially since many work so hard at their own schools and care deeply about where their children go to school).

The 7 areas are okay. But did they ask teachers, principals and parents for input before they wrote them? I certainly might have written the family engagement differently because you'll notice no input about school structure or district policies.

wseadawg said...

When reformers talk about the single most determinative factor in a kid's educational success being "teacher effectiveness" they invariably cite two sources (aka "the research shows"): First is the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) where over 20k per child is spent not just in their schools, but for before and after school care, for parental assistance, for healthcare, income assistance, etc. In other words, "cradle-to-grave" financial assistance, not just for the child, but for the child's family too. So, when "HCZ" is cited, the speaker is comparing an apple to an orchard.

The second, oft-repeated "class size doesn't matter" quote is lifted and taken completely out of context from a report from the McKinsey Group, the same pseudo-governmental consulting group that intensively studied Enron and glowingly reported on its new, forward-looking flexible (I'll say) corporate management style, and how it was the way of the future. That report noted that children in Singapore could score high on tests despite teachers having 35 or more students in one class room. Gee, aren't our classroom environments just like those in Singapore, a country known for disciplinary measures like "caning," for example? Or are urban-American school classrooms maybe a little different in terms of what baggage kids bring through the door, not to mention what challenges and politics American teachers must deal with, that in Singapore, they can just pick up a cane and deal with?

Unfortunately the bright, uber-political minds in SPS have trouble not buying the corporate "research" hook, line and sinker, and are apparently unable to appreciate obvious distinctions in conditions that reduce reliability of foreign country based research.

Ah, but who has time to think. Just blame the teachers instead.

Just reminding people to keep it real.

Maureen said...

the speaker is comparing an apple to an orchard

wseadawg, what an excellent way to put it! So completely apt here.

So, can we come up with metrics for the 'quality' they are looking for? If we do, do we run the risk of acting like something is important because we have the data to measure it (which I believe the District is overly prone to do already)?

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

I'd like to see student safety, and school security, included in any "what makes a quality school" list. I think the district should create a set of security guidelines for schools, and then each school should submit their security plan to the district so the district can approve and monitor it. Some of our high schools have only one lunch period, which means 1200+ kids to 2 security guards. That's an awful ratio, and not a safe situation for our children or the security guards.

I'd also like to see a baseline of courses that are mandatory at each MS and HS included in the list. There are high schools that still do not offer one single honors class.

Next, I'd like to see standard, concrete, intervention strategies in place for struggling students - in all schools.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Excellent points, Sully.

Sahila said...

I'm an underemployed writer - pay me and I'll rewrite the definition of Quality Schools!

Sahila said...

On the topic of Quality Schools and the question of RTT:

From FUSE:

"The spotlight is on tax loopholes as the legislature kicks off a special overtime session today.

The question: will they close tax loopholes and increase revenue, or make even deeper cuts to schools, health care, and essential services?

Fuse members joined the Rebuilding our Economic Future Coalition in front of Chase Bank in Seattle today with a simple message for legislators: say "Yes" to our future and "No" to tax giveaways for big banks.

We believe it makes more sense to end a $67 million exemption for banks than to cut $67 million from education or health care. This giveaway, which exempts earnings from mortgage interest for big banks, is just one of dozens of unfair tax loopholes we need our legislators to close during special session

It's important to send a strong message to our legislators as they start the special session. We can build on this rally by urging our legislators to say "Yes" to our future and "No" to giveaways for big banks and special interests. Will you stand with activists at the rally and send a message to your legislators now?

http://www.fusewashington.org/page/speakout/bankgiveaways

As our state struggles to recover from the economic downturn, we can't afford any more handouts to big banks and special interests. Lobbyists are doing everything they can to convince our elected officials to preserve their tax loopholes, and we need a powerful grassroots response to counter their influence during these critical days of the special session.

In these challenging times, legislators must decide what our priorities are as a state. Closing this loophole could fund Basic Health coverage for 30,000 Washingtonians. However, the $67 million generated by this loophole wouldn't even be enough to pay last year's bonuses to the top four executives at JP Morgan Chase.

After cutting $3.7 billion from our state budget last year, our communities can't afford hundreds of millions of dollars in additional cuts to health care, education, and environmental protections. Bank lobbyists in the other Washington have already obtained billions of dollars in handouts for Wall Street and they don't need any more from us.

Will you send a strong message to your legislators urging them to say "Yes" to our future and "No" to more giveaways for big banks?"

If the State grew a backbone and closed this loophole, we wouldnt be held hostage by the RTT fiasco -giving away our childrens' educational future for a measly $80-100 per child ...

whittier07 said...

Did anyone read MGJ's "E-News to Families" today? The main article touts how SPS is working to create "Respectful and Effective Learning Environments" by having an anti-bullying policy. If your child is being bullied, she encourages parents to notify the teacher and SCHOOL COUNSELOR. Are they kidding? Aren't these the same SCHOOL COUNSELORS THAT ARE A THING OF THE PAST after this year?

Lori said...

Whittier07, amazing find. Thank you for pointing that out. Unbelievable.

Who does she think is going to take the reins and run with things like Second Step and Steps to Respect next year? At our elementary school, the counselor is in charge of these efforts.

wseadawg said...

Sully said: Next, I'd like to see standard, concrete, intervention strategies in place for struggling students - in all schools.

Sully: We'd all like to see that, but it's last on the list. Because of politics, I guess, the district abhors calling attention to struggling groups, probably because they are predominantly non-white or non-English speaking, and live predominantly South of the canal.

Instead of letting the groups who are doing fine keep doing fine, the district instead makes wholesale changes district-wide, making everyone share the pain, I guess to somehow make things "equitable." Has it worked? Hell no, and it never will.

Until this community and this district muster the non-P.C. courage to tackle, fund, and support programs aimed right squarely at the struggling and failing kids, and no-one else, those kids will continue to drop out and fall through the cracks.

Look at the current "earned autonomy" proposals from the district. At Lowell and TM, for example, their apparently won't be "earned autonomy" because significant numbers of non APP kids aren't doing well. The gaps will always be wide in a school that houses a general ed or ALO program and an APP program. Duh! Does that mean the school can't have earned autonomy, and instead gets punished like its failing kids, when it really isn't?

KSB recently stated that she'd like to see the district support and basically stop screwing with programs and groups that are doing fine, and focus their attention on the groups that aren't. Doesn't that make fiscal, social, and educational sense? Isnt' that better than instituting standardization everywhere? Hell, isn't standardization, as it's being rolled out, a little communist in its leanings? "A quality school in every neighborhood" - same, no difference, all equal, measured by outcomes.

I don't know why we can't have a district that simply operates on a philosophy that needy kids get more resources, and those resources will be carefully deployed and measured.

Shouldn't we be looking at what works in some schools and communities and trying to replicate similar practices elsewhere, but not trying to make everything the same, government issued, dumbed down, bland offering, in every neighborhood? Isn't it guaranteed to fail when a school is centric, standard, and institutional, instead of being adapted to, and well-received by, its own community?

I can't figure out why we must impose everything top-down, then go from there. It's like failure first, then we'll figure out something else - some other magic bullet solution - in another 7 to 10 years, after this one fails.

TechyMom said...

"The gaps will always be wide in a school that houses a general ed or ALO program and an APP program."

You're assuming that these programs will always be demographically different. I don't think that's going to be true at Lowell in a few years. Remember that the "achievement gap" measures differences between disagregated demographic groups, not programs. This year, there's a big difference demographically, but the new Lowell attendance area is pretty middle class.

Central Mom said...

There are 7 District-defined areas of Quality School. Fine. I don't totally agree, but it's something.

Why doesn't this parent group divide itself into 7 groups with each group taking upon itself the goal of meeting regularly w/ District staff and Board members to promote evolution of implementation of each area...track District action and non-action...and report back here.

That would make parents partners and force a whole lot more critical discussion and public information dissemination than the topics would get otherwise.

wseadawg said...

TechyMom: I follow, but I'm not sure the district's "earned autonomy policy" - as it's currently proposed, will account for that. You may be right about the area around Lowell, but what about around TM. It's an okay neighborhood, but nothing like around Lowell. And we're supposed to be striving for equity and equality between the programs. How do we get there from here? By booting out or reassigning neighborhood kids?

wsnorth said...

I ran this through the decoder ring. Sorry if this borders on the inappropriate, but I couldn't resist.

1. Effective Teaching – if you still have a job that is.

2. Effective School Leadership – primary skill required is avoiding moral and productivity crushing edicts from central staff.

3. More School Time for Students & Teachers – because spending 6 hours a day in an overcrowded classroom supplied with inadequate materials is not enough.

4. Professional Opportunities and Recognition for Teachers – see #1. Aspire to #2 if brave enough. Maybe pick up some OT on #3.

5. Culture to Support Teaching and Learning – wait, or not. We forget. Maybe we could at least leave well enough alone…

6. Engaged Families and Community –if we can find any who are not so ticked off about closures, NSAP, STEM, Math books, etc. that they still give a &@#^!

7. Arts Opportunities – if you have a good PTA, otherwise, well, you can always study the graffiti on the outside of the building during lunch.

:-]

Charlie Mas said...

zb asked: "So, how would this look written by Charlie (or Melissa)? "

It would look weak and amateurish. Because we are amateurs. We are not education professionals pulling down six figures (plus benefits) of taxpayer dollars in exchange for our training, experience, and expertise in both education and management.

We are in a very sorry state when the work of highly paid professionals only has to be marginally better than the work of untrained amateurs to satisfy expectations. Surely there is a different set of benchmarks for professional grade work. I will accept the benchmarks that the very same professionals set for themselves. In this case, accountability as defined by the superintendent and promised by the superintendent.

I don't ask for anything more than the District promises.

seattle citizen said...

Speaking of professionals: Anyone else catch the gaffe in the Seattle Times editorial today?

"The fourth [restructure of school] would be to convert into a charter school, sadly, illegal in this state."

Yes, I agree Times: "The fourth would be to convert into a charter school, sadly...Illegal in this state!!!"

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/
html/editorials/2011361570_edit17schools.html