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Sunday, June 06, 2010

In the Times Today

There was an editorial and an article in the Times today of interest.

The editorial, titled Education: Congress Needs a Clear Plan, Not a Blank Check, refers to the $23B Congress had planned to send to states for emergency public school aid. Arne Duncan says that 100,000 to 300,000 education jobs are at risk (includes support staff). The choice is keep teachers or increase class sizes. The Democrats are sponsoring this measure in both house of Congress and the Republican response is that throwing more money at a problem without seeing results from previous money spent isn't the answer. Ground zero is California with a $19B budget deficit. Their school budget ends summer school, music and art classes, bus routes, days in the school years and teachers.

The Times seems to feel that there aren't going to be that many teachers laid off (maybe not in Washington state but what about elsewhere?). They rightly point out this will increase the national debt. I would give credit to Democrats for taking this up in a doubtful election year.

Oddly, they point to the recently ratified teachers' contract in D.C. as needed accountability for money spent. To me, it's not linked because while accountability for dollars is important, if the economy is bad, it's bad. Teachers will be laid off whether or not there is accountability.

And help me out here because I don't get this:

In Seattle schools teachers at Hawthorne Elementary, West Seattle Elementary and Cleveland High have agreed to be evaluated under a new system that holds them accountable for meeting student academic growth goals. In exchange, the teachers are eligible for extra compensation.

Did I miss something? Those schools "agreed" to be evaluated? I thought they were told they were part of the grant. Also, the teachers are eligible for extra compensation? I checked the district info sheet on each school and I don't see anything about extra compensation.

The article was about the Everett School district's efforts to raise their graduation rate. Seven years ago, their graduation rate was 53% and now it has risen to nearly 84%. The national rate is about 75%. So what did they do?

In Everett, success coordinators such as Engnes are just one part of the district's effort. Over the past seven years, Everett has closely tracked every student's grades and absences, overhauled boring classes, offered free summer makeup classes, and taken dozens of other steps to motivate, push and nag more students into leaving high school with a diploma in hand.

The district also raised its graduation requirements during those years, adding a third year of math. Some worried that would raise the number of dropouts, but it hasn't.

They also analyzed data and found that half of the kids had just one failing class and most were coming to school every day. That's not a lot to tackle to keep a kid from dropping out.

And there you have it. The hard, one-on-one work of tracking each and every student and making it personal. "We're watching you, we want to help you, what are you having trouble with?"

What was the boring class?

One of the classes that 30 percent of students failed was a former graduation requirement called Infotech, a technology-skills class. The problem was that many students knew the material before they started.

"They were just so bored silly by the class that they weren't coming," Edwards said.

This one makes sense. It's not that the teacher was boring or even the subject matter. It was just too low level for a large group of students.

What else?

It started programs in elementary and middle schools to get students thinking about what classes they would need to prepare for careers, and offered a free summer program for students who needed to make up credits.

Not long ago, students who didn't earn a diploma after their senior year had to come back and ask to be re-enrolled if they wanted to continue for a fifth year. Now, the district automatically signs them up, sends them a schedule, and calls them in August to remind them they're expected in the fall.

Good idea. How can you get students to graduate if they can't make up classes in the summer?

They do a couple of other things that the jury (at least in the comments section) seems to be out on.

For example, it grants half a credit for a failed class in language arts, math or science if students later pass the state's 10th-grade exams, formerly known as the WASL, in those subjects. Some educators say that passing a test can't replace all students would learn in a semester.

17 comments:

seattle citizen said...

Brad Bernetek knows his stuff. His talk about MAP was fascinating, until the diversion to the meaning of "RIT", then I was lost, too.

I see the value of this sort of data, this ongoing series of snapshots. It might serve to allow a slight indicator of which students are tanking, maybe catch them early...

But isn't this what educators are supposed to be doing in their day-to-day teaching? Noticing and acting on evidence of student tankiness?

And it's all so quantitative and statistical: As I watched Mr. Bernetek (it's Brad, not Brian) I was fascinated by the data yet repuled by its distance from the actual students. We were shown line graphs representing all students in the district and I wondered, is this simple line meaningful? What is measured, what is not...

Perhaps MAP, with its adjunct "Descartes" library and resource bank, might serve to address the many nuances. Or it might diminish students even further to number-hood.

There's still the nagging concern that the Supe is on the Board of NWEA...

dan dempsey said...

Snohomish SD has stated NO RACE TO THE TOP for us.
More Federal Control not wanted in Snohomish.

Hooray. A least one district has the sanity to resist illegal extortion attempts by Obama/Duncan.

Read Federal Code 3403,
the ARRA legislation, and then the corruption known as Race to the Top bribery.

Sahila said...

If you are as dismayed at and disturbed by the chaos created in the District by the Superintendent as some of us are, please go to this No Confidence Vote petition, sign on, and then pass it around all of your networks....

http://www.petitiononline.com/S3B62010/petition.html

dan dempsey said...

While Mr. Brad Bernetek is a skilled presenter of statistics, I hardly think he is well versed in what is needed to produce significant improvement in the classroom.

I am less than certain that the MAP is a valid credible worthwhile measure of anything.

Statewide I saw from 2000-2005 WASL reading scores increase at incredible rates while IOWA test scores were flat. The WASL was little more than a public relations tool. What the MAP, as given by the SPS, actually is ..... remains to be seen.

Note: the Long awaited PSAT results presentation he gave over a year after the actual testing was largely uninformative and nearly useless.

LouiseM said...

So now we have yet another example of ed reform in our state that is actually working, yet Seattle can't seem to find a way to do the same? Wait, what am I talking about...Seattle can't even figure out how to replicate successful models within our own district!

Good for Everett for taking a long view of what it takes to properly prepare students for college and life. It takes time. Not 1 year, not 2 years, and not 5 years.

On another note, go see Waiting for Superman at SIFF. While it's a documentary on mostly California, NY, & DC there are some serious lessons--particularly for those in the burbs who think they have it all--about teacher effectiveness, parent involvement and this big system we call public education.

seattle citizen said...

I seem to recall looking at some reviews of Waiting for Superman, and it appeared to be sort of a propaganda piece for the privatization movement - Michelle Rhees, ol' Arne Duncan, Bill Gates...lambasting that darn union and all those ineffective teachers...

Is there anything in the film that presents a balanced perspective, that challenges the current reformist tenets of a) "quality teachers" (because they're all so bad) and b) standardized tests and curriculum (because we know latitide lets teachers teach just any ol' thing)

dan dempsey said...

Let us see what gradation rates Ed Week reports later on this week for Everett SD.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I saw the film and will put up a review soon. No, it was not a balanced film.

LouiseM said...

You're right Melissa, it wasn't balanced and it wasn't supposed to be. It was telling the real challenges of families who don't have wealth or options, but care deeply about what happens in terms of their children's education. It dispels the myth (which I've read many times on this blog) that parents of color don't value education. It tells a story of how a poor education system can kill a community. It even tells the story of how suburban schools think they have all the right stuff when in reality there are a lot of their kids caught in the middle and won't get very far.

While people may want to dismiss reformists, they can't deny the issues that were posed in the movie. The fact that a superintendent in Milwaukee had teachers caught on film reading the newspaper, putting a kid's head in the toilet and allowing kids to just shoot dice all day, couldn't fire them (he did and the union contract allowed them to come back and keep their jobs) tells a story. It may not be the story people want to hear, but it happened.

That to me is the frustrating thing about people fighting against the kind of change that is needed to make public education effective. It's not a tweak here and there--for many districts it may require just starting over. This is not a technical problem. This is an adaptive problem. People (adults) need to change and not hold onto the status quo. You can have all the money and resources, but it won't mean jack sh** until adults decide to actually examine their practices in their jobs.

The film was very clear that charter schools were not a silver bullet and that many more fail than succeed. The film was also clear that schools today are designed to do what they did 50 years ago and that doesn't serve kids today.

Why is it that everyone wants "balanced" or "equitable" or "fair" when there's a serious effort to fix something (education, jobs, living conditions, etc.) to allow underserved populations to succeed? Hmmm?

Why is it that people on this blog feel they have enough knowledge about what happens in other school districts (especially inner city districts) to decide this film is just promoting privatization, charter schools and teachers' union bashing? What if that's what really needs to happen? Are you convinced the public education system can fix itself? Will you tell that to the generations of kids that have been failed and will be failed by this system you protect and feel only needs a little tweaking?

You want to see what's really happening outside the ivory walls of Seattle? Go visit one of these inner city schools, then come back and tell us all public education is just fine.

Maureen said...

F4K, have you read Diane Ravitch's new book? I just finished it and returned it to the library and now I have to go out and buy it so I can read it again. It was shocking to me how much that is now happening in Seattle has already played out in other urban school districts (New York, San Diego) and has not met expectations.

dan dempsey said...

Dear Fighting for Kids,

I've done more than visit I've taught. SoCentral LA, Compton Blvd, Hispanics in E WA, two Indian Reservations..etc... Yes there are problems but changes are not necessarily solutions.

Read Diane Ravitch, read RCW 28A 600.020, read Project Follow Through results. Get in touch with the University of Oregon's Doug Carnine. Start reading real research that is valid and look carefully at the complete BS that the UW tries to pass off as research.

Yes there are problems but read Ravitch and find out where the solutions actually can be found. Look at the absolute crap the district just bought for Cleveland and the price. Look at the pathetic math materials that the SPS has in place and still MGJ is clueless.

WA state is currently spending about $10,000 per kid and the central administration needs to get a clue. Anyone likely to show up at the Rally on June 16 at 5:30 PM?

Dan

Grey said...

"Did I miss something? Those schools "agreed" to be evaluated? I thought they were told they were part of the grant. Also, the teachers are eligible for extra compensation? I checked the district info sheet on each school and I don't see anything about extra compensation."

To answer the questions about the SIG schools, teachers were given the choice to opt out of the schools and displace themselves if they did not wish to function under the new stipulations. Given the choice to move to greener pastures or stick around for more media castigation and endlessly escalating stress and worry, what would you do?

Once they are gone, these difficult-to-staff schools will have to find replacements, with the added challenge of finding "better" teachers than the skilled and experienced staff that were already there.

Individual teachers at these schools cannot get financial rewards, as this violates the contract. Any rewards will be pooled and used for collective benefits to the schools, such as extra staffing or resources.

seattle citizen said...

F4K,
You write, "That [people not wanting to here horror stories about bad teachers?] to me is the frustrating thing about people fighting against the kind of change that is needed to make public education effective."

What kind of change? You yourself write about charters that "many more fail than succeed," so what, exactly, is YOUR silver bullet? You suggest that "we" here on this blog (and I'd suggest we are much more varied in opinion than your blanket statements merit) are "fighting against change" when as near as I can tell some of us are fighting against change by outside interests, many of them born of corporate ethos rather than of experience in education, that have NOT been proven worthwhile, that MIGHT serve to siphon money (real estate holding companies; ed-management companies; "non-profit" corporations that provide testing systems and pay their CEOs half a million per year...) AWAY from students and into corporate pockets.

Yes, some few teachers "stick their students heads in toilets" (nicely graphic example, btw) but the proportion is small and some of us believe that "change" starts at the top with a chain of accountability on the citizens, their Board, the Supe, Principals and then teachers. Much of what we hear of "change" in this current reform push is merely focused on "quality teachers" and proposes completely demeaning education into mere test scores and canned curriculums to do it.

Some of us believe we are fighting for kids by fighting against this narrowing of education into little boxes to be checked. Many of us believe the cronyism and malfeance on top must be addressed, that "accountability" starts there.

Many of us believe that their are serious societal inequities that are either ignored in this debate, or the onus is placed on educators to "fix" them by standardizing children. Many of us disagree with that.

So, F4K, what are these changes you would like, and how are they effective? Data please, including costs per student, the classes canceled because they're not on the WASL, and any other pertinent information that supports your porposed changes.

Kristin Mehus-Roe said...

...and the contract also states they will be displaced if they don't raise their students' test scores by a certain percentage. My son is going to Hawthorne in the fall and I know of at least two good teachers who have opted not to return next year. It doesn't give me much confidence.

seattle citizen said...

Kristin, do you have the exact metric that triggers "displacement" if "test scores" aren't met?
MAP? MSP? Other factors that would influence displacement? Given the whole evaluation discussion, it would seem that there would have to be some clarity on what, exactly, it is the teachers are to do.

Kristin Mehus-Roe said...

I don't, but it is something I'm trying to become more educated on. Really, this is all new to me. My husband and I are starting to attend some school meetings in order to get a better handle on what all of this means for the school (the teachers) and, obviously, my son. Once I get a better handle on it, I'm happy to share. I don't want to base my opinions on anecdotal evidence -- but it's disheartening to hear some of the information (probably correct and incorrect) that's circulating around the south end.

LouiseM said...

Seattle Citizen, there is no silver bullet. I never said there was. There are many things that need to happen and unfortunately folks can't agree on what those things are because everyone is coming from a different perspective.

My point is the education system will not change itself. So far the quality of education has gone nowhere but down. You all don't want reformist, so I assume you think it's all OK. Maybe that's a wrong assumption, but I haven't seen anything else coming from this blog except reformist bashing.

I personally am tired of seeing kids getting shafted because grownups can't get their collective sh** together.