Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Future - Professional Teacher Version

Let's just get this straight from the start. All students are capable of learning. Except for the few with cognitive disabilities, all of them are capable of working at grade level, which is regarded as developmentally appropriate. In fact, they are capable of far more.

Some students have been well-prepared for school and some have not. Those who have been well-prepared need to be challenged to meet all of the minimum grade level expectations and then go beyond them. Those who have not been well-prepared need some additional support to allow them to also meet all of the minimum grade level expectations and then go beyond them.

Every student is well-prepared in some ways and to some degree and poorly prepared in other ways to some degree. In short, they are each unique individuals.

Identifying individual student needs and providing those students with the lessons and support they need is the professional work of teachers. Teachers employ their training, their expertise, their talent, their effort, and their creativity in well-prepared improvisational teaching done on the spot in face-to-face contact with students with whom they have a personal relationship. A video recording of a teacher - no matter how well-crafted the lesson - isn't sufficient because regardless of the quality of the instruction there is no relationship and there is no motivation.

Teaching is work that requires a lavish amount of professional labor. It cannot be reduced or leveraged because it can only be done by a professional in direct real contact with a student.

Teaching is a craft and an art. The craft is in designing and delivering an effective lesson, but teachers don't just deliver information like a dump truck. They do not just direct students to information like a road sign. There's more to their work. The art of the work is to motivate the student, which requires them to know the student. Or, more accurately, it is to help the student find his or her motivation. Teachers need to lead the student to find the value and the joy in learning. There is no school so bad that a motivated student cannot wrestle an education away from it. There is no school so good that it can impose an education on an un-motivated student. Motivation alone isn't enough if there are other obstacles to learning, but nothing is possible without it.

This is part of why some folks don't think it is necessary to spend resources on well-prepared and motivated students. They are wrong. They don't realize how brittle and fragile motivation is. It is far, far easier to keep a student motivated than to re-motivate a student who has been de-motivated.

The teacher cannot provide the motivation. They have little more to offer than the joy of learning and the satisfaction of a question answered. Students cannot be motivated by punishments. They cannot be motivated by traditional rewards. They have to find their own motivation, whether it is in the promise of independence or self-improvement or a sense of a higher purpose. That's all pretty intangible stuff. It doesn't come off an assembly line and it is different for each and every student. Helping students to find that motivation is an art; in combination with the craft and science of delivering instruction, it is professional work.

Once you accept the fact that professional teaching is the irreducible and irreplacable element of education, you can build your school around that activity. What would that school look like? It would not be a room with 96 headphoned students working in carrels on tablet computers.

I would offer The NOVA Project as a model for education centered around the student-teacher relationship and ready to provide individualized instruction that sparks the motivation in every student. NOVA has 20 teachers for 330 students. That's a 1:17 ratio. Sounds extravagant, doesn't it? Is it expensive? Yes and no. It has a very flat structure. Other than the teachers, the only other staff at NOVA is the Principal, an administrative assistant, a fiscal specialist, a Family Service Worker (.5 paid by PTSA), and a .5 librarian. No counselors - the teachers do that work. No Assistant Principals, no Registrars, no Intervention Specialists. Next year the school is losing the FSW and the librarian. When it was at the Mann building, NOVA was the least expensive high school in the District for non-academic expenses. By far.

Look at the staff list for Rainier Beach High School. There are five administrators and five administrative support people. Then there are 80 more names. 80. The headcount enrollment at RBHS is 425. The enrollment at NOVA is 332.

Maybe the traditional organizational structure isn't what is best for students. It isn't built around a student-teacher relationship or the goal of helping each student find their motivation. More to the point, maybe the traditional organizational structure isn't the most cost effective.

I know what people might say. The NOVA population is different from the RBHS population. The NOVA students are predominantly White (73%) and only 19% FRE while Rainier Beach is 9% White and 65% FRE. Okay, but ask yourself these two questions:

1) Which model is most likely to motivate students or, more accurately, help students find their motivation?


2) Which students are in the greatest need of motivation?

People say that NOVA students are self-directed and self-motivated, but they don't necessarily come to the school that way. A lot of them come to NOVA after having done very badly at traditional schools. The structure of NOVA helps them to find their motivation. After that, it might be enough to just get out of their way, but NOVA supports them as far as they are willing to go. Yes, I'm a fan, but I'm a fan because it works.

So what would it be like if our middle and high schools were arranged in close communities no bigger than about 400 students (or arranged in houses no bigger than that), had super flat structures in which students had a teacher mentor with whom they met regularly, in which the instruction was project-based and the students followed their passion to design their own projects (rather than an outside vendor at a cost of $400,000 per year), and in which the grading was based directly on demonstrated proficiency with the content.


Anonymous said...

Hear, hear, Charlie.
ken berry

Nick said...

Charlie, Thanks for this; I am 100% with you. This is what Seattle used to be good at.

Anonymous said...


I agree with many of your comments.

However, as a teacher leaving the profession I would caution against too much of a move to 400-student small schools and even the academies. Should a district the size of SSD have a couple - yes. A district this size should have a mix, including a skills center (shot down twice by the Super/Board under the banner that any voc classes are selling students short for college - never mind that several professions will generate more $$ for students careers than even teaching).

However, small schools have a whole host of their own problems which is why (as I understand it) the Gates Foundation backed off. Having worked in both comprehensive and small schools, much to my surprise I found the comprehensive schools functioning much better. I was sure I would greatly prefer the small schools but was shocked at the internal politics. Many students right now in small schools are having trouble with preparedness because of the lack of class options, for example. Some principals in small schools become mini-tyrants in their own little fiefdoms too.

The biggest problem, as often stated on this blog, is not that teachers can't teach but too many administrators can't administrate. To the extent, as you point out, that administration headcounts and costs can diminish, actual teaching and reaching of even challenging students can occur.

What? said...

What is a fiscal specialist?

I'm looking at middle schools with 1000 or more students and 64 employees.

What is going on?

What? said...

8 coaches for 500 students.

The WSS is so chopped up, most schools can't get one coach.

dan dempsey said...


"skills center (shot down twice by the Super/Board under the banner that any voc classes are selling students short for college - never mind that several professions will generate more $$ for students careers than even teaching)."

What about the 30%+ that disappear between K and graduation... is the Skills Center selling them short or is the SPS just failing to serve those kids by rejecting a skills center and other Voc. classes?

anonymous said...

I like the premise, but I agree with anonymous. We should have a mix of schools, including The NOVA type model, other alternatives, and large traditional schools too.

NOVA is not for everyone. Some kids find their motivation by being part of a sports team (football, baseball, basketball) which they will not find at NOVA. Some kids find their motivation by being able to take AP or IB classes which they will not find at NOVA. Some kids find their motivation by being in a competitive band or orchestra which they will not find at NOVA. Small schools are just that, small. They don't provide a great variety of choices, opportunities, and classes. They can't, with 20 teachers, and no coaches (as in sports coaches), band teachers, etc.

I'm a great admirer of NOVA and think it works wonders for the kids who choose it, but it's not a model that works for everyone.

So yes, to more schools like NOVA, but no to using NOVA as the sole or base model for all schools.

Salander said...

A fiscal specialist handles all the money for the school-takes care of materials and supplies, accounts apyable,etc

KG said...

Why do schools need coaches?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm not sure Charlie's premise was for the Nova model or smaller schools. I think the idea was personal attention and how we get it to kids so they know someone is watching, cares and will be there for them.

Charlie, you should send this to Crosscut.

anonymous said...
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Moose said...

Apologies in advance for thread-jacking, but I would like to hear about the science meeting held last evening at Garfield. Did any of this blog's reader's attend? Melissa or Charlie, would you mind starting a thread on this? (Blogger is not letting me email you directly about this.)

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

My point was that small schools just can't offer the choices or options that larger comprehensive high schools can. If there were a variety of small schools that all had different and unique focuses (visual and performing arts, science/math, vocational education, etc.) and they could find a way to include advanced and remedial classes and some sports, that might work well. But again, you'd need a variety of focuses so that these small schools would be able to meet the needs of all of the students in the district.

The larger comprehensive high schools do a great job of offering many options under one roof, but can be a much less personal environment. That works for some kids and doesn't work for others.

In SPS it seems that the high performing comprehensives are quite popular and draw large waitlists. On the other hand our two smaller high schools (Center and NOVA) fill, but despite their high performance, don't draw substantial waitlists. That suggests that the small school model is not as popular as the comprehensive model.
Still, I like the idea of a mix of some small schools and some comprehensives. I like choices. What works well for one, doesn't work at all for another.

Charlie Mas said...

Thanks to those who helped me to clarify my point.

I'm not saying that I would support making NOVA the model for every high school, complete with ArtShares, the Period Prom and roller derby team.

Instead, let's think about how the elements of the NOVA structure which allow teachers to exercise their professional expertise to individualize instruction and to guide students to their motivation could be adapted to other schools.

Couldn't other schools adopt the low student:teacher ratio, the teacher coordinator duties, the project-based instruction, the credit for demonstrated proficiency, the tight community, and the nearly absent administration that NOVA has without necessarily taking on the NOVA hippy / veggie / punk / artist culture?

When Gates tried small schools - or small schools within schools - I'm not sure they really knew what they were trying to foster or if they went about it effectively. They may have mistaken correlation for causation.

For example, studies show that student test scores correlate highly with the student's home values. Does that mean that remodelling your kitchen will help your kid pass the MSP?

There is a community strength that CAN happen in small schools, but just having a small school doesn't necessarily make it happen.

I, myself, attended a high school with an enrollment of over 2,800. My graduating class was 748. I loved it. A school that size created all kinds of opportunities that Seattle high schools don't provide. We also had seven classes a day, not only did we have some really wonderful electives, but I had opportunity to take them. I am not opposed to big schools.

I can easily imagine students taking core classes in their house where they are well-known and part of a tight community and part of their day in classes available centrally to students from all of the houses. That would afford them both community and a wide range of electives.

Po3 said...

For example, studies show that student test scores correlate highly with the student's home values. Does that mean that remodelling your kitchen will help your kid pass the MSP?

No, but a home that values quiet time when books are read, family dinners, adults who help with homework will help the kids pass the MSP.

Anonymous said...

"skills center (shot down twice by the Super/Board under the banner that any voc classes are selling students short for college - never mind that several professions will generate more $$ for students careers than even teaching)."

This is too bad really. When I lived abroad and went to gymnasium (high school) students could pick one of a few 'paths' (math/science or music/art or history/polisci/language) and while they took core classes in all subjects, they took more courses in their chosen path (or the work was more in depth, project based learning etc) It reminded me of our college structure (core classes for all, then classes in ones "major") Not everyone in gymnasium went on to university. Many did, but many went straight to specialty colleges (eg nursing, business etc).

Before the kids even gymnasium though, they had already been able to choose gymnasium or trade school. The trade school students also had core curriculum (math, language, history, science) but more focus on vocational/trade courses.

This worked out well and all students had educational opportunities per their interests, proclivities, likelihood of success etc... They were just on different paths.

I wonder if most industrialized nations have a similar system (traditional schools, vocational/ specialty schools) at the HS level. The US is always "falling behind" when compared to other countries, but that makes sense if everyone else is supporting students differently and when our systems/structures are so different.

If Seattle (US?) stays bent on 'all kids go to college' aren't we doing a huge disservice to those kids who don't want to/ shouldn't/ aren't able to go to college? Should they be made aware of the other options? Yes. It may be college, it may be a trade school.

I saw "Race to Nowhere" recently and they developed this well I thought. A guidance counselor (?) who was interviewed in the film said ( paraphrasing...) College isn't for everyone. And that's OK. Kids need to made aware of their options early on (in HS) to be able to be successfully mentored in the direction they are going. And made aware of what will be a good fit for them and receive guidance accordingly.

-- lots of ways to succeed.

Jan said...

Great post. This seems to be mostly a high school conversation -- but it used to be that we had, and liked having, a bunch of really great choices -- from big comprehensives (GHS, RHS) to smaller comprehensives with specialized programs (IHS, Sealth, WSHS with block hours), to even more alternative stuff (Center, Middle College High School, NOVA). Rainier and Cleveland struggled.

Somehow, the combination of the NSAP and "excellence for all" a la MGJ seemed to devolve into an imperative to (1) standardize courses and course materials, so no one had any opportunties that were not available to all and (2) impose lots of high stakes testing, so that the Broad Academy could generate the data it needed to keep Maria (and Seattle) on the front page of their website and so that teacher evaluations could be tied to student performance (unfair in any case, but even more so if it is obvious that different students in different schools are not all being taught the exact same thing).

If the goal is for everyone to learn (and not just for everyone to get measured), we need to focus on finding many ways to get students, knowledge, and great teachers who care about kids together. We have -- or had (they have taken a beating over the past four years) many great choices for high schools. We need to work on making them better, improving the ones that aren't filling (i.e. are judged by parents and kids as NOT being great learning environments), and continuing to look for new ways to reach those kids who haven't found ways to learn in the schools we now have.

It really bothers me that there are no choice seats next year at GHS or Sealth. Not just because they promised it and then didn't come through, but because if kids are going to find a place that motivates them, that maximizes learning, they need choices that work for them, and we are erecting, rather than removing, barriers.

Maureen said...

Moose at 9:21, I was at the meeting and wrote a summary. I just posted it at the Physical Science thread.

Moose said...

Thank you so much!

Patrick said...

This was an excellent pair of articles, Charlie. I hope it gets distributed widely.

southmom said...

I'd just like to say that the extreme lack of school choice now in the southend means that every single kid in my fifth grader's immediate circle who is not going into app is is going to private middle school. I counted 10. Every. Single. One. That includes kids to the immediate east, north and south of us. I guess you could say that forcibly assigning children to failing schools doesn't work for a lot of families. Some neighborhood kids managed to get into Sealth or Garfield; that looks like it's gone as options, so I'm guessing most of us won't return for high school.

dan dempsey said...

Southend Mom,

So you have not seen "every school as a quality school". So when will the Superintendent and the Board address that issue with something other than Press Releases?

dan dempsey said...

The Professional Teacher ... See what Seattle's Craig Parsley wrote in Crosscut today.

anonymous said...

Southmom, where were the families in your neighborhood going to MS before the NSAP? What middle school choice do you feel you lost? The popular schools were always hard to get into if you didn't live in the immediate neighborhood- way before the NSAP.

Choice schools are still an option for you aren't they? You may not get transportation - but you wouldn't get that for private school either.

Charlie Mas said...


It wasn't that long ago that any south-end student could get into McClure or Hamilton and the District provided transportation.

anonymous said...

Hamilton is full, true, but Mcclure isn't. Southmom could easily get her child into McClure. Currently their functional capacity is 646, and their enrollment is 512. Families may not get transportation to McClure but neither are they getting transportation to the private schools she says the entire 5th grade class chose.

There is space available at McClure, Jane Addams, AS1, ORCA, Blaine, Madrona, Aki, Pathfinder, Broadview, and Denny.

Madison, and Mercer, while near full, still have some space left (at least according to functional capacity and enrollment data)

Salmon Bay had only a few kids on it's waitlist this year, so it's a strong possibility.

So what schools are really unaccessible? Eckstein, Washington, Hamilton, and TOPS. Eckstein, Washington and TOPS have always been near impossible to get into if you don't live in the immediate neighborhood, draw the magic lottery ticket, or are in APP. So the only new reduction in choice (for middle school) that I can see is Hamilton. It is now full with the addition of APP north.

I'm not saying that it is right that a family not have a strong, viable, school option in their own neighborhood. I'm just saying that I don't think the situation has changed much with the addition of the NSAP. I think it has pretty much always been this way.

Am I missing something?

Anonymous said...


Southend families have relatively easy access to a number of private middle schools: Explorer West (in White Center), Lake Washington Girls MS, Seattle Girls School, The Northwest School, Seattle Academy (all in the Central District)—all closer than McClure and many of the others you listed.

Madrona has been a school in trouble for a number of years, so it was off the list for many.

"Choice" was always a crap shoot for Southend families. The NSAP only made things worse.


southmom said...

I'd just gently point out that McClure, Salman Bay, Broadview, Denny, etc. are really, really far away, made worse by rush hour traffic. Nearly everyone works -

And yes, Aki and Madrona have capacity, umm, sort of my original point. We in the southend, believe it or not, do take some sort of notice of school quality. And I'd say gently that the quality of schools here is a scandal, after years of promising to fix them. Why is it okay for everyone to tell us we simply have to send our kids accross for an hour plus to West Seattle, North Seattle or Queen Anne for an adaquate program?

anonymous said...
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SeattleSped said...

The district has historically sited self-contained special education programs at underenrolled schools, not really upping the "attractiveness" factor.

I believe you follow the revenue-sharing principle where those schools that need improvement/investment get it in greater proportion than those that don't.

WV: suckeek

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

Southmom asks: Why is it okay for everyone to tell us we simply have to send our kids accross for an hour plus to West Seattle, North Seattle or Queen Anne for an adaquate program?

It is NOT ok. It was NEVER ok. But, it was something of a "pressure release valve," making it possible, at the cost of time and a hit to family life, to get out of SE schools without having to pay for private school. A poor substitute for a real fix, I agree, but better than the present.

The combination of the NSAP and the withdrawal of transportation has torn away even that last sop. And the SE now has -- virtually nothing in terms of real choice. I cringe at your post. Every single child! But I am not surprised.

Switching from the old system to the SAP was not an easy task. Not everyone was going to be happy. But it was predicated on the availability, in all areas, of reasonably decent neighborhood schools. The board should NEVER have allwed MGJ to implement it without first solving the problems (real or perceived) at Aki and RBHS. That was a hard job too -- and they let her entirely skate on it. No accountability for the SE Initiative. No accountability for the huge disparity in test scores, graduation rates, college attendance rates, etc. between SE schools and other city schools. If they had just said -- Nope. No NSAP until test scores at each of the five lowest schools (leaving out reentry programs, etc.) are within X percent of the average test scores of all the other schools -- well, what could MGJ have done? Either fixed those schools (or cheated on the scores -- but I won't go there).

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

"Why is it okay for everyone to tell us we simply have to send our kids accross for an hour plus to West Seattle, North Seattle or Queen Anne for an adaquate program?"

I hope you are not referring to my comment because I never said that nor did I even imply it. In fact I said the opposite. I said "I'm not saying that it is right that a family not have a strong, viable, school option in their own neighborhood. I'm just saying that I don't think the situation has changed much with the addition of the NSAP. I think it has pretty much always been this way."

But I'd like to ask Southmom What it would take for you to go to AKI? What would make it good enough for your child? And how could the district make that happen? Remember that the school has to serve ALL of the kids in the neighborhood, of which most are low income, minority, and/or immigrant. Considering the population the school must serve, what could the district do to make the school attractive enough to you, while still serving all of the kids in it's reference area?

I'm asking because I wonder if there really is anything the district can do to make the school attractive enough for you, while still serving all of the students in its reference area? And if it can't then what is the solution?

Anonymous said...

Having personally toured McClure and talked to a number of parents there, I would advised Whitman and Hamilton for more academic choices. Blaine is ok if you can get in, but words is it is going to be overrun by people hoping to avoid McClure. So good luck southend mom. You have lousy choices. We moved north of the city because of the schools and safety for our kids and we know we are lucky financially to afford that.

Peon, I don't think southend mom is asking any more than you would ask for your children's schooling if you were in her shoes with few options. I think of all the hue and cry many northend parents and APP parernts made over transportation changes and how NSAP have affected their school choices.

I would rather have northend parent problems than southend parent problems.

Northend parent