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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Two Questions

Picking up from the thread on the early enrollment numbers as well as a conversation with an education leader in Seattle (not the district), I have two questions. (Please note, I'm not advocating anything. They are just questions that I have been pondering because of discussions with others.)

One is about foreign language in elementary schools (actually there are two issues).
  1. Would it be better in your mind to continue with foreign language immersion OR would you rather see foreign language classes in almost every elementary school? Having classes versus a full program would be a lot easier to do at every school (albeit the rollout would need a lot of planning). As well, where would they put it in the day?
  2. Given that the best way to learn a foreign language is immersion (or living in a foreign country), would it be worth it to create foreign language classes at nearly every elementary?
Would it be better than nothing to have some foreign language training at nearly every elementary school (thereby reaching more students) OR is it better to continue on the (slow) path we are on with language immersion schools?


Next topic. I was asked this question and it truly startled me.

Do you think it is the responsibility of the district to provide "specialized" schools?
  • Given our budget woes, should we be concentrating the dollars on the basic education without having to design how "specialized" schools operate?
  • Does it matter more for high school or elementary school or should that be a consideration at all?
Coming into this district with already established alternative schools, I never gave it much thought. I had nothing like this when I was growing up and didn't choose it for my own children but I am very happy it is available for other children. Our alternatives (as the early enrollment numbers show) are thriving. People are clamoring for more foreign language immersion and/or Montessori (as Graham Hill and Bagley show).

But is it luxury we can't afford? Could we do better, overall as a district, with "basic" education?

22 comments:

ArchStanton said...

Do you think it is the responsibility of the district to provide "specialized" schools?

Given our budget woes, should we be concentrating the dollars on the basic education without having to design how "specialized" schools operate?


Depends on what you mean by "specialized" - and what you would provide in lieu of said specialized schools. It seems to me there is a continuum here and to frame the discussion in terms of standardized cookie-cutter schools vs. specialized schools is kind of false.

I don't see how we can meet the needs of such a diverse population of students without some degree of specialization. If you don't provide the accommodations that serve the needs of various groups (e.g. special ed, highly capable, ELL, athletically & musically talented) - school becomes useless for all but the lowest common denominator students. (at that point you should provide 3Rs for 1/2 day and offer vouchers for supplemental activities)

If you aren't meeting the needs of your customers, why be in business?

oh, wait, nevermind...

Anonymous said...

On alternative schools, one way to view it is as an inexpensive means to attract parents to Seattle Public Schools.

Seattle has one of the lowest public school participation rates in the nation. Only about 68% of Seattle children attend public schools compared to 80-90% for normal US cities.

Low appeal aggravates most of our other issues with our Seattle Public Schools. High market share is critical to have community support for public schools, to be able to pass taxes that fund the public schools, and to maximize the involvement of parents in helping the schools. Seattle Public School funding from state and federal sources also is directly tied to enrollment.

Embracing the desires of parents in Seattle would help make Seattle Public Schools more appealing. But many things that parents want (e.g. smaller class sizes) are expensive. Alternative programs are popular and are one way of attracting more students to Seattle Public Schools without higher costs.

wsnorth said...

A "foreign" language should be taught at all schools, beginning in elementary. The US will become a 3rd world country if we don't learn this sooner or later.

The International schools should be option schools - look at the wait lists, that is obviously a way to meet "customer" demand. They should have a path all the way to High School.

Current option schools ARE more expensive (and environmentally unsound), especially if you include transportation costs. Some day the "spill baby spill" mentality will have to stop, but in the mean time if "neighborhood" schools were given an equivalent in budget to the amount spent by "option" schools in transportation, they could offer more attractive options, too, and become more competitive.

Or we could all just shut up, sit down, and do what we are told!

Sahila said...

languages...
all babies are wired to be able to speak every language on the planet... if they are exposed only by their 'mother tongue' the neurons giving this capacity are pruned back, until over time they no longer have that facility, or it is severely curtailed...

Many of us have seen families where the children are bi or even trilingual...

I myself spoke Dutch at home until I went to school, where I learned to speak English - had to, matter of survival... my family switched to English only when I was around 11, apparently to make it easier for my sister and I and to make our friends feel more welcome... I regret that decision now. My mother tongue is now very rusty - I'm better at speaking French and Latin than I am at speaking Dutch, though I can still understand and read it - and I have been unable to teach it to my own children who have Dutch nationality...

It seems to me that if we see a value in/want children to be successful at learning other languages, then they should be exposed to other languages from kindergarten... and if we want true fluency/facility, they should be full immersion classes...


Specialty schools....I dont believe in specialisation early in life... I think all children - even those who show a particular aptitude in any area - should have as broad an educational experience as possible until they have graduated high school...

I'd venture to suggest that the reasons given here in support of kids not specialising in sports at an early age, apply to educational specialisation also...

http://educatedsportsparent.com/should-my-child-specialize

See here for info re the British experiment in specialist schools:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specialist_school

Sahila said...

Off topic, but relevant to the issue of public school parents not being invited to participate in the process of determining what's happening in public education:


Secretary of Education Duncan's proposals to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) would take the parent voice out of public education, would encourage more test prep and narrowing of the curriculum, would lead to more privatization and inequities in funding, and would further undermine the quality of our public schools.

Parent leaders from across America have written a letter to the President and the US Congress, asking them to listen to parents, and enact real education reforms that have been proven to work, including requiring more parent involvement in decision-making and reducing class size.

We insist that the next version of the ESEA formally incorporates the
views of public school parents. As highly knowledgeable primary
stakeholders, we must be permitted to have a seat at the decision-making table.

Go here to sign the letter:

http://www.change.org/petitions/view/put_the_parent_voice_back_in_public_education

GreyWatch said...

Love this topic!

Language classes for everyone, 5x a week, K-12. OK, maybe K-8 with an opt out after that. This is standard for other developed countries.

The optimal immersion environment (from what I've heard 2nd hand, and admittedly have nothing to substantiate) is to have 50% of the class composed of native speakers of the immersion language.

How to get there?

Make them application based option schools with eligibility requirements to get the program close to the optimal ratio.

The con to the neighborhood approach is that people can't transfer in and out easily (unless they are native speakers, or during K-3, and neither w/o a fair amount of prep) when they move in and out of the neighborhood (big issue in all communities, but a huge issue in lower income neighborhoods where these schools would likely meet the "optimal ratio").

Fairness in terms of placing a desirable program is my biggest concern. Everybody seems to want immersion (until it doesn't work for their kid in reality) so where do you place them?

The economic/environmental argument stated earlier by someone here seems to make this a no brainer. Too expensive to make them option schools. Fairness and track continuation issues with the neighborhood approach.

Solution: Language for all students, K-12.

wseadawg said...

Not only no, but hell no are the alts and option schools a "luxury" we can't afford. They are what keep public education dynamic and available for an ever diversifying population with ever diversifying wants and needs. Whatever keeps as many kids as possible in school and not dropping out is money well spent in the long run, as study after study shows.

We pay for it one way or another anyways. Might as well offer the broadest menu possible in hopes of giving kids and families options to keep them engaged and involved.

wsnorth said...

wseadawg, love your ideas and comments, but not following on how option schools help keep students from dropping out? Not many K-8 students "drop out". More Alt High schools migh help with this, why aren't there more of those in Seattle? The addition of STEM has doubled the capacity of Alternative High Schools, hasn't it? Why do you think they aren't they more popular? I also think transportatioin should come out of the option school budget, so we don't starve the neighborhood schools to fund the expensive option schools.

Stu said...

Every "cluster" should have an optional language immersion K-5/Middle School or K-8. Once in the program, you have a clear all the way through high school. Having one of your cream-of-the-crop schools, like John Stanford, available to only those in the neighborhod is a sin.

Not only are specialized schools a necessity, aren't they some of our highest performing schools? I have no idea why almost every elementary school hasn't been modeled after John Stanford by now!

But it shouldn't be exclusive . . .EVERY elementary school should require language education. As GreyWatch pointed out, this is a necessity and every other country finds a way to do it.

This world's getting smaller and smaller and it sure would be nice for the next generation to be able to speak to each other!

stu

Bird said...

I went to the Hamilton open house this year and someone asked the head of the language department how prepared kids were if they came from a school that offered some language instruction vs. language immersion.

The answer was that kids that come from schools that offer language instruction still essentially start from zero in middle school. She said they come knowing the words for colors, numbers, animals and not much else. Perhaps there's a way to provide language instruction in elementary that gives kids a genuine leg up, but from what she said, I take it that kids aren't really getting that in elementary language classes now.

Kids from the immersion programs, she said come with mixed levels of ability as far as grammar, speaking and writing go, but they all come with excellent oral comprehension skills. She said she felt she could speak to those kids in the foreign language as she would speak to adults and they would all understand what she said.

I don't think language instruction in elementary is really much of a substitute for immersion instruction.

Should we give up immersion or other programs as "luxuries"? Where is the information that these schools cost the district more?

I'd be very sad to see those programs go. I think they are something to be proud of and eliminating them would go a long way to moving from "Excellence" to "Adequacy for all".

There's very little I see in the public schools that makes me say "Wow, that's better than when I was in school". Mostly, things are worse when it comes to basic instruction. In general, it seems like my kid will get less -- less rigor, less extras. Immersion is one place kid's get more. They get something more that is very hard to replicate at home.

That said, I really don't think immersion is a good fit for everyone. If a kid is struggling with basics, it can be a bad match.
It should be an optional program. Kids shouldn't be excluded from the neighborhood school just because immersion is not for them.

GreyWatch said...

"I don't think language instruction in elementary is really much of a substitute for immersion instruction."

Agreed, because currently language instruction at the elementary level does not exist. Two days a week of language class is the most that non-immersion schools have, if they are lucky, and believe it or not, parents consider this limited amount a draw when selecting schools (at least in pre-sap days).

The focus is largely cultural, and yes, you get out at G5 knowing your colors and your numbers (to ten at least), but not much else.

I'm advocating for real language classes, not two day a week (at most) cultural enrichment sessions. Immersion is fine and dandy, but is it necessary?

European schools don't have "immersion" but their students are able to communicate in several languages because that is the expectation. Foreign language is treated as a serious and required subject, on par with math.

Josh Hayes said...

wsnorth writes:

"wseadawg, love your ideas and comments, but not following on how option schools help keep students from dropping out? Not many K-8 students "drop out". More Alt High schools migh help with this, why aren't there more of those in Seattle? The addition of STEM has doubled the capacity of Alternative High Schools, hasn't it?"

Several questions involved here. "Option" schools have historically been used in SPS as schools of last resort. Kids who simply could not be dealt with in traditional schools were bounced into alternative schools; I know of at least a couple of dozen "difficult" kids who were sent to AS1 in the last five or six years because other schools didn't want to deal with them. We had success with some, and with others, no. But there is a historical sense that "alternative" schools are a good place to dump troubled kids.

I suspect that kids who drop out of high school really started dropping out a lot sooner than that. I wonder if there are data available to examine that: when did these kids really begin to turn away?

And as for alternative high schools, yes, STEM is a new thing, but Summit was a K-12 school. SPS seems to have a certain hostility to the Center School as well; Nova was forcibly moved to a crappy building and the necessary work to make it an acceptable high school environment has yet to happen and probably never will. The point is: SPS has no interest in alternative schools in general, and in high schools in particular.

STEM is not an alternative school in any meaningful sense anyway: it's intended to provide a curriculum heavy on particular fields, but with completely traditional pedagogical approaches. Magnet != alternative, no matter which (WV) vendware you use.

Josh Hayes said...

I'd also like to weigh in on this:

"Do you think it is the responsibility of the district to provide "specialized" schools?"

Here I want to address alternative schools - not the intentionally marginalizing term "option schools"; could SPS have chosen a more denigrating term? How about "Outhouse Schools"? Sheesh!

It's a plain fact that traditional schools don't work well for some kids, not because they require IEP-level intervention, but rather because kids are different from each other, and some kids are quite different at different ages.

This is why alternative schools are critical, and it's also why the current administration loathes them so. The - I was going to say "philosophy", but one of my majors as an undergrad was in Philosophy, so I won't abuse the term - world view of SPS Central is that, in fact, all kids are essentially the same, unless they're Special Ed kids, and therefore all schools should be the same.

What this means is that any kid who doesn't fit into the aligned materials (qv - and don't imagine for a second that SPS things that aligning curriculum means what Charlie thinks it should mean [although Charlie is RIGHT about that; that's what it SHOULD mean]) must either muster up the moxie to test into APP, or resign hirself to having an IEP for the duration. Those are the choices The Good Doctor would like to provide.

I've seen too many success stories come out - BURST out - of AS1 to accept that. I don't care that those kids might be lost to private schools. I care deeply that they'll simply be lost, and I can't stand that. Kids aren't to blame for failing to be widgets, and they shouldn't be forced to pretend to be widgets.

Yes: the district must provide alternative schools.

Charlie Mas said...

There is no reason to believe that the schools that use an alternative pedagogy are necessarily expensive. As long as class sizes are comparable and administrative costs are comparable, there's no reason to believe that they would be more expensive.

The transportation line has no legs either since the District is only providing transportation within the middle school service area these days, although the neighborhood schools get to evade the cost of transportation for those within the walk zone. The use of the geographic tiebreaker is an effort to induce students within the walk zone to choose alternative schools.

Is it the responsibility of the District to provide "specialized" schools? Yes. The District has a responsibility to provide APP schools and Spectrum schools and certain Special Education programs and re-entry schools and a Bilingual Orientation Center and all nature of specialized schools, including schools that use non-traditional instructional strategies. These all provide the appropriate academic opportunity for a group of students.

If we're going to question the cost of any of them we would have to start with STEM, the only one that costs a lot more than an ordinary school.

Moreover, based on the waitlist numbers, it's pretty clear that the District needs MORE of these schools.

As for the world language instruction in elementary school, I'm all for it. Do it as PCP like art, music, or P.E. But do it for real; don't just play at it.

Charlie Mas said...

At the Board Work Session on International Education yesterday they took a bold step towards expanding access to language immersion programs: They agreed in principle to have a discussion about revising the timetable for making a plan.

I'm not kidding. With each verb in that sentence they got further away from action.

Charlie Mas said...

Right now, what world language is available at most elementary schools is strictly whatever the community can provide. Which means, of course, that there is a lot of inequity among the schools.

If the District really believes that world language is something that students should learn (and they say that they do), and if the District really wants to provide parity (and they say that they do), then the District should make provision for world language instruction at EVERY elementary school - even if they have to do it as part of an extended day.

wseadawg said...

WSNorth: Conventional High Schools are not for everyone, and all you have to do is meet a group from NOVA, AS1 or Summit - until this year - to have your eyes opened to the good these schools do for kids who just do not fit in conventional high schools or kids who do not fit and thrive within standard, conventional schooling methods. NOVA has some extremely high performing kids it serves. Many of these families cannot afford private school as an option, so keeping the kids within the public system keeps per-pupil funding up allowing for a healthier system than if the kids fall through the cracks and drop out. Hence, its good for everyone in the public system, it breeds tolerance, acceptance, humanity, within the community, with the exception of the JSCEE silo, it seems, and it ensures viable options likely to reach more kids. When supported, they work and usually don't cost any more than conventional schools, relatively speaking.

Patrick said...

It would be great if they could start learning a language in elementary schools. I don't see any reason kids couldn't start learning verb tenses and grammar at elementary age.

Sometimes I wish I could be a fly on the wall in the classroom. I am not sure how they spend their days. When I was in elementary school, we had the usual academics every day -- math, reading, writing, social studies. Somehow we also had 20-minute recesses in midmorning and midafternoon. And a 40-minute lunch, so there was time to run around. And PE every day. And we had art, alternate days but I'm not sure now what it alternated with -- an extended reading period, maybe. Now it seems like there's no time for anything but the core academics. Yet somehow we managed to learn our core academics in spite of all the other things we did.

Isabel D'Ambrosia said...

My kids attend John Stanford International School (JSIS) and Hamilton, and I am a big fan of international schools.

That said, I heard that the old Latona elementary (JSIS before JSIS) got very good results with world language instruction that was 1/2 hour EVERY day. It would be a very good idea to do this at every elementary school.

It seems that there are elementary world language programs that work and some that are less effective. Important to look for programs that are proven to work.

JSIS runs an extra teacher (an instructional assistant) in every immersion classroom. And the IAs are paid for by parents -- we just raised $160,000 this year to pay for them. I don't know what they do at Beacon Hill and Concord.

Hamilton's name includes the word "International", but aside from a couple of language immersion classes for the JSIS graduates, and beginning language classes for everyone else, there is nothing international going on. Not one dime from the district to support anything "international".

The point is that "special" schools are not special unless there is something there that is special.

I would like to see more investment in "special" schools (like language immersion schools) that provide what families in Seattle really want. That kind of investment is wise because it keeps public schools viable in our city where families have a lot of private choices.

Anonymous said...

If you have ever walked through the halls at Nova, you would not associate the term "luxury" with the environment. Nova has operated on a shoe string budget since day one and has thrived.

I think that the best aspect of SPS is the choice that the district has to offer. It's homegrown and has always been in response to the needs of the community.

If it wasn't for Nova, we would not have moved to Seattle from Mercer Island and it is the best decision that we ever made.

I can only speak for Nova specifically but I have gotten the sense from parents at other alternative schools and within other programs such as APP and SBOC, that the selections that they made couldn't have been better for their students also.

I would like to add that because we have these programs in place, there is no need for charter schools or the privatization of a public trust, that being our public schools in Seattle.

Stu said...

It seems that there are elementary world language programs that work and some that are less effective. Important to look for programs that are proven to work.

Don't worry. If anything ever comes out of this, I'm sure the district will "study" the issue carefully, fly people around the country to investigate the options, and then proceed to choose the worst program available. At least you can be sure that they'll spend a lot of money on it and that they'll ignore any public-supplied evidence.

stu

wsnorth said...

RE: Our alternatives (as the early enrollment numbers show) are thriving.

I guess I (and others, it would appear) are confused by what is meant by "alternative" schools vs. "option" schools. Just which schools are "Alternative schools"? If it is schools like Nova, Center, and AS1, it looks like they are all underenrolled for next year with lots of open space.

The non alterntaive "option" schools (like TOPS, South Shore) seem to be thriving based upon wait lists. I am all for educational options, I just don't think it should come at the expense of the neighborhood schools. Most of you know Cooper was closed so Pathfinder could take its building, but do you know where the displaced Cooper Kindergarteners are being assigned now? Portables on the playgrounds at Schmitz Park and LaFayette!!

Those schools are so overcrowded already kids can't comfortably go to the lunchroom, gymn or navigate the halls. It's pathetic. Sounds the same in the SouthEast - the South Shore gets everything, the neighborhood schools get zip.