Seattle Schools Meetings Week of May 30th-June 3rd

No school, of course, for the Memorial Day holiday.  However, if you wish to speak at the Wednesday Board meeting, they are still counting Monday as the day they use to see who signs up.  So if you wish to speak at the Board meeting, do not wait until Tuesday (the next business day).  Sign up on Monday starting at 8 am, or 252-0040.  I note a more sternly written instruction for being on the list:

Provide your "full legal name, topic you will be speaking on, telephone number, and email address.  If complete information is not provided, you will not be included on the list."

Interesting that "full legal name" stuff.

Executive Session* to review Superintendent evaluation/Discussion of labor negotiations
This is interesting because of the latter portion.  They signed labor agreements with the teachers and the principals.  Is this another union contract or is this negotiations over something new?   I wonder because of the RIFs and TFA.

The Superintendent is having a coffee chat with members of the Ethiopian community from 6:30-8pm at the Ethiopian Community Center, 8323 Rainier Ave S.  

Again, another Executive Session* on the Superintendent evaluation.  Interesting how much time they are taking on this issue.   (There's yet another one on June 6th and 8th.  What's up with that?)
School Board meeting from 6-9 p.m.   Agenda  This includes the following:

- math update from Cathie Thompson - I'd ask someone more in the know on this issue to look at the presentation and let us know what you think.

- vote on the Ethics/Whistleblower Protection agreement between SPS and the City.  The cost will be $125k per year for a 3-year contract.  The City will provide a written report to SPS every 6 months.  I would assume since the City has agreed to this it will happen (unlike the district who promises updates that never seem to materialize).    From the item:

For purposes of comparison, it should be noted that the District has expended approximately $50,000 related to ethics investigations since November 30, 2010 (not including those related to the Small Business Development Program).  In addition, the General Counsel’s Office has also devoted approximately .5 FTE (equivalent to a cost of approximately $60,000) to the ethics work in that same time frame.  As extensive District staff training has not yet occurred, this District staff time and expense to date does not include the substantial time involved in developing and delivering training to the District’s approximately 8000 employees at over 90 locations.  

- approval of a large number of rewritten Board policies

The majority of policy changes were small—collapsing multiple policies into one, as mentioned
above, or changing legal references or updating language.  Five policies, however, are either new
and unrelated to WSSDA, or have been substantially changed to meet the District's governance
needs.  Those policies are: 

Policy 1005: Responsibilities & Authority of the Board 
Policy 1010: Board Oversight of Management 
Policy 1240: Committees 
Policy 1620: Board-Superintendent Relations 
Policy 1640: Responsibilities & Authority of the Superintendent

- a number of intro items relating to SPS programs delivered by outside entities (UW, King County, Children's Hospital) as well as a new policy on Debarment and Suspension of Contractors as a result of Pottergate

- one interesting intro item is the Attendance Procedure policy and one change to note:

From the background info:
This policy also states that students who do not attend school must have excused absences, or a truancy petition may be filed against them or against their parents if they have seven unexcused absences in a month or ten unexcused absences cumulative in a school year.  Unfortunately, some parents of elementary students believe that merely excusing their children’s absences is sufficient before the law without regard to the critical learning their children are missing in reading and math.

Key to this new policy is this:

Removes wording approving short family trips (vacations) as excused absences. Many schools already include bans on family vacations in their student handbooks, and elementary school administrators, in particular, are unhappy because parents loosely define “short family trips” to include just about everything and elementary students are missing critical academic instruction. 

So don't expect that family vacations are a good reason to miss school anymore.  I am interested in schools that already "ban" family vacation excuses.  Anyone have this at their school already?

- There is also a capital measure be introduced to adjust the cost upward at Denny/Sealth for one phase of the project from $4.9M to $6.1M.  Why?

The new site design includes: six tennis courts, a softball field, informal playfield, pedestrian paths, drainage mitigation facilities, and will provide an area for a potential future elementary school. 

What is NOT stated is that those tennis courts and softball fields were already bought and paid for under BTA II.  The district, after building those sports areas, then had the bright idea to co-join Denny/Sealth, tore them out and now we get to pay to rebuild them.   The item states:

A larger than expected amount of unsuitable existing soils was discovered during the GC/CM’s
pre-construction services phase. Funds to remove and replace these soils are included in this contract

Really?  BTA didn't discover this the first time they built these sports areas?  I guess that finding is like BEX not discovering the kind of bedrock Cleveland sat on during its rebuild (even though that information was in plans from the '70s.)

It would be nice if Capital was honest about the amount of money it plows through while many other needed projects don't get done in this district.  It would be nice if the Board actually ever called them out on it.

*Executive Sessions are NOT open to the public.


Anonymous said…
I can't imagine a family forgoing a vacation requiring a few (or even many) days off school because of a school policy. What can the school do about it? Nothing. I too would like to hear about schools that try to disallow it.

Patrick said…
I can't imagine scheduling a family vacation without referring to the school schedule.
dan dempsey said…
Parent said:
"What can the school do about it? ..... I too would like to hear about schools that try to disallow it."

About those vacations .... my oldest went to Charles Wright Academy from grades 7 through 12, graduating around 1991.

The school handbook started with asking parents to be sure to have their children in school, as much as possible. Please check the school calendar. If you intend to schedule family vacations on any school day, please enroll your child in some other school NOT CWA.

Current CWA tuition is astronomical .... skip the european ski vacation if it conflicts with school .... that was never our problem.
dan dempsey said…
Hey that Math Update link is an interesting piece of work ... a Happy Talk PowerPoint (No Surprise).


slide 2 =>

The purpose of this Board update on mathematics is to:

–Highlight MAP mathematics growth data

–Provide an update on the professional development around the use of new textual materials at the high school level

–Share professional development successes and next steps

The purpose is happy talk and the avoidance of anything else.
dan dempsey said…
Is all the Cathy Thompson Math Happy talk justified?

The comment below (with hyperlinks) was previously posted on Walk to Math as comment #64


Let us take a look at where the evidence stands today from the What Works Clearing house.

The WWC data on EDM that was shown to the Board in 2007 was flawed: Additionally, three studies that met standards with reservations in the previous version no longer meet evidence standards.

The current situation:
Seventy-two studies reviewed by the WWC investigated the effects of Everyday Mathematics® on elementary students. One study (Waite, 2000) is a quasi-experimental design that meets WWC evidence standards with reservations. The remaining 71 studies do not meet either WWC evidence standards or eligibility screens.

Waite (2000) included 732 third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students in six schools using Everyday Mathematics® and a comparison group of 2,704 third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students in 12 similar schools, matched on baseline math achievement scores, student demographics, and geographical location. The schools in the intervention group were in their first year of implementing the first version of Everyday Mathematics®. The comparison group used a more traditional mathematics curriculum approved by the school district.

The Link for EDM One Study of 3, 4, 5th graders in Texas comparing EDM 1st edition with a traditional text book.

Elementary School Math Comparison study underway on 8000 first and second grade students in 10 states. In comparing results from TERC/Investigations, Saxon, Scott Foresman/Addison-Wesley, and Math Expressions .... For second graders, one difference was statistically significant after taking multiple curricula comparisons into account. Second-grade students attending Saxon Math schools scored 0.17 standard deviations higher than students attending Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics schools, roughly equivalent to moving a student from the 50th to the 57th percentile in math achievement.

Before the new recommendations for math texts came out from OSPI, at least 95% of WA elementary students were taught using Reform Math texts. Given school finances most of those districts are still using Reform Math textbooks.

Seattle showed gains in math v. rest of state on 2010 Math MSP at grade 4. This is to be expected as Seattle is now teaching math in most schools at least 75 minutes a day everyday.

dan dempsey said…
... (continued from above)

Unfortunately overall the results for Black students and English language learners are substandard and not improving. Even with the large increase in instructional time accompanying EDM ** the following occurred.

Black student OSPI test performance
year : failing to pass :: unable to score above level 1 grade 4

WASL 06 : 68.8% :: 41.9%
WASL 07 : 68.0% :: 41.8%
WASL 08 : 72.4% :: 46.7% **
WASL 09 : 70.9% :: 49.2% **
MSP . 10 : 71.8% :: 51.6% **

** is an EDM use school year

Here are the results of HSPE testing at grade 10 in Reading and MATH 2010

Percentages of students unable to score above far below basic grade 10 in Reading and Math

Black Students
Reading = 24.2%
Math = 68.8%

Hispanic Students
Reading = 25.2%
Math = 56.4%

Limited English
Reading = 57.3%
Math = 80.5%

This is a serious problem that is currently ignored by the District. On May 18th 2011 The Board adopted a new policy D 43.00 with no mention of providing interventions to struggling students.

As for the effectiveness of SPS professional development at the high school level ... look no further than bringing UW CoE MEP to more schools ... the ProD at Cleveland and RBHS could not have been worse .... check the results HERE.

If Cathy Thompson only presents the Math Happy Talk .... How will the huge problems that the above data reveal be dealt with when the problems are apparently unrecognized by Central Admin or the School Board?

Note UW CoE MEP is now "helping" at Ingraham.

Who is paying for UW CoE MEP? Is this another pointless NSF paid production?

UW CoE MEP is now helping in the Clover Park SD as well.
dj said…
I suppose what that means is that my kids will be "sick" if I am pulling them from school for a day or two for vacation.
Anonymous said…
Also in the proposed attendance policy-

Two unexcused absences in a month will result in a school meeting and an "Attendance Agreement." For secondary students, 10 min. late may count as an absence.

Can a student be forced to sign the Attendance Agreement?

Something about the policy bothers me, perhaps the extent to which it can be enforced without some common sense or leeway?

-wary parent
Anonymous said…
Math update states that:

* In middle school, between 51% and 54% meet or exceed typical growth

By definition, isn't "typical growth" the growth achieved by 50% of the norm group? So if it's between 51-54%, it's not saying much, is it?

Also, areas of focus include:

* Use of adopted materials and resources

* Instruction based on State Standards

The adopted materials don't fully cover the State Standards (and in some cases work against them) - so focusing on State Standards would require less of a focus on the use of adopted materials. How is the district addressing this?

Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
We're one of those that is guilty of taking a few extra days of vacation when attending family events. We don't have any family in-state - so family graduations, weddings etc. require our travel.
Sorry - but that's not going to change - policy or not.

-Guilty of "vacation" truancy
Syd said…
I think encouraging people to lie is a bad policy decision...and that is what is going to happen.

Family is important - family time is important, and people in different parts of the country have different school schedules. My nieces and nephews in TX are already out of school and will be returning in early, not mid, August. Juggling schedules will mean that family reunions are not always convenient for every family.

Funerals and weddings and grandma's 80th birthday are not optional, and are not scheduled with school calendars in mind.

What about those trips to Europe or Hawaii? Sometimes job logistics and even cheap airfare outweigh the SPS calendar. Those are learning experiences. Although we have not been financially able to swing one of these great opportunities, I can certainly understand the value of travel.

The reason you want to be honest with your school about your plans is so that you can facilitate the children keeping up with their school work. This policy will make that impossible.
moon mom said…
I would just like to point out the disconnect between holding teachers accountable and choosing to take students out of school for travel. It makes it very difficult to conduct classes when a quarter of the class starts vacation on a Wednesday instead of Saturday. And, while travel is valuable learning in many cases, making sure the student "keeps up with school work" is not possible when they miss lectures, class discussion or cooperative work. I think expecting teachers to make up "lessons to go" is not really fair. Just sayin'...

Still, it is a policy that is unenforceable with any consistency and will result in only selective application.

WV says unjam
On a budget said…
We also take an annual trip to visit family during the school year, but the timing is mostly for financial reasons - it gets too expensive to fly in the summer or during Thanksgiving/Christmas.
Johnny Calcagno said…
Moon Mom –
I, for one, don’t want to hold teachers any more accountable than I hold parents and administrators, but the proposed attendance policy changes are ridiculous. If anything, we should be going in the opposite direction.

Modern urban families need flexibility, and they need to be trusted to have the proper judgment about excused absences. If we can trust them to make sure that homework gets done, we can trust them to decide whether that extra day at Grandma’s is a good idea.

Our own family struggles to shoehorn in conflicting schedules among the various districts, private schools and colleges in the area. Seattle’s community colleges have one spring break, the UW another, private schools’ another, and then SPS, which doesn’t announce their final schedule until May of the previous year. It’s not just a question of a ski or Hawaiian vacation; families need quality time together to stay together and these vacations provide that. Let’s not be penny wise and pound foolish at a societal level.

It’s bad enough to force parents to send their kids to overcrowded underfunded classrooms, do we really have to force them to lie in order to deal with the realities of schedule demands?

Seriously, this is nearly a dealbreaker for our family.
none1111 said…
Syd said: The reason you want to be honest with your school about your plans is so that you can facilitate the children keeping up with their school work. This policy will make that impossible.

Bingo! This is another one of those policy decisions that will have bad unintended consequences. The rare handful of times we've opted out of a day or two we were very clear about it in advance, and that made it much easier for everyone.

Can someone make this point at the Wed. Board meeting? Shouldn't take more than 30 seconds.
SP said…
Parents, especially elementary parents need to speak up and write to all the board members if you don't agree with the proposed attendance policy changes, as you will be stuck with these rules for a very long time (and the district might even make a "slight income to the District of up to $100 per student filing" if the new attendance policy considers your kid truant under the proposed rules).

The district is asking the board to repeal its own policy (procedure D 40.01) only to replace it with a new "Superintendent Procedure" D 40.00SP (which is a district procedure and thus does not require a board vote). The district says there are just minor changes, but look again:

1. New section added, "Tardies"- The proposed secondary student policy is generally what high schools use already. If you miss 10 minutes you are no longer tardy but marked "absent" (so why bother showing, kids ask?). But new for K-5's is a rogue wave - "Elementary students who miss 15 or more minutes of core instructional time for 10 or more days in a school year will be subject to school-based and central interventions for these tardies and may be subject to a truancy petition." The schools will actually be required to track which time an individual class starts their core instructional time (not always on the same day) and report any "truancy" which after 10 times can lead to a court procedure! Is a truancy petition in Juvenile Court really "age appropriate intervention" for a tardy? (see #4 below)

2. Definition of "Excused Absences" is one of the minor changes, actually. The wording about family trips was removed, but "holidays or other special one-time events" are still excused-- doesn't Grandma only turn 85 once in a life-time event? It still is up to your principal to give the OK.

3. The more serious definition with far-reaching consequences is under the new district's definition, "Excessive Excused Absences." This is not found in any of the WACs/state laws. "Students who exceed twenty (20) excused absences in a school year will be subject to school-based and central interventions for these absences, and may be subject to a truancy petition…" What part of "excused" doesn't apply here? My kid was in the hospital several times one year and was sick prior to that. Does this mean the district will haul kids to Juvenile Court for these types of excused absences?

4. Finally, in the Action Report, under Fiscal Impact/Revenue Source section it states "Fiscal impact to this action will be negligible" but adds this: "Additional truancy petitions likely will be filed on elementary students and/or their parents. Depending on decisions of the Legislature, this may result in a slight income to the District of up to $100 per student filing." So, the District says they can actually make up to $100 for each kid they file a petition on? (check out RCW 28A.225.090 which says the district can receive 50% of all fines collected. For truancy, parents can be fined up to $25 per day for each day of student absence (as well as parents being charged a fee for a court-appointed attorney for the child- no pocket change, for sure!).

The permanent damage to elementary kids' educational careers by hauling them through the Juvenile court system for TARDIES and EXCUSED ABSENSES is unconscionable and should not be allowed!
Anonymous said…
Hmmm...Anybody else see social engineering going on here? The only way such a policy makes any sense is to prevent the perceived more affluent families from taking vacations during school when others can't.

I see no other plausible reason why such a policy would be adopted. It brings huge enforcement issues with it. (Do we want to spend money on detention teachers to punish kids for unexcused absences, even though they were important to their families?)

It also encourages folks to lie, and that's exactly what we'll do if we have to, although to date, we've probably only missed one school day due to travel plans.

No, SPS can't see the value of families spending time together, because that's a "luxury item" in the eyes of too many social engineers at JSCEE who want to equalize everyone and every thing, instead of pushing everyone forward.

As hard as my family works, whether its a ski vacation or family wedding, we're not missing it for some stupid "get tough" policy that appears to be born primarily of jealousy or envy of perceived privileges some kids have over others.

If there's another rational basis for it, I can't find it yet.

This one just reeks of having nothing to do with the district's primary mission: Educating kids. Instead, we get a surplus of hall monitoring by people who long ago forgot who they work for and who pays their salaries (if they ever knew or cared in the first place).

Who asked for this? And why?

MathTeacher42 said…

Did you hear any black helicopters last night ? ;)

At Franklin I have 10 to 20 absences a day, a bunch of tardies. The attendance office has a mountain of excused notes floating around in piles everyday.

Some kids are suddenly gone for 4, 6 and 9 days ... and you find out their parent died. It seems some kids have 256 grandmothers expiring. Franklin is 70% FRL, so any attempts to make attendance policies more efficient to administer are probably not influenced by families deciding to go to Vail instead of Aspen due to a change in powder.

Attendance is a nightmare - maybe they're just trying to get something more coherent for 40,000 plus kids?

How many people do we taxpayers want to pay to sit in schools and play Judge Judy on whether the time off should be excused or not????

What might have helped in the attendance policy is to provide what the district says is all important - data.

Has there been a huge increase in the number of absences/tardies over the last several years? Is it more concentrated in some areas? What do other districts do?
SP said…
Each district is allowed to write their own definition of "Truancy" (ie unexcused absence) which can be more restrictive than state law (unexcused absence for the majority of the day- not just missing a class or tardy). Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) has the task of tracking all the district truancy data each year for the Becca Truancy Law.

According to WSIPP, 63% of districts use a stricter definition of truancy than WA law and include unexcused absence from class. 32% of districts use the more restrictive definition of "unexcused late arrival." There is no mention of any district using "excessive EXCUSED absences" as a new definition of Truancy, and yet that is what Seattle is proposing.

In other reports from WSIPP, the ave. court cost of a truancy case (2007-08) statewide was $475, with the state reimbursing courts only $275 per case. This does not include any district related costs for tracking & processing the truancy, which was totally ignored in the SPS district's Action Report. Instead, the Action Report actually states that the district may receive income of up to $100 per student filing.

So, is this the stealth budget plan? Cash in on all of the K-5 kids who miss 15 minutes of core instruction in a day for 10 accumulative days and file them as truant? And definitely, all of those kids, sick or not, with more than 20 EXCUSED absences as Truant also! What an innovative plan (and built-in job security also)!
SP said…
Reoprt "Washington's Truancy Laws: School District Implementation and Costs (Feb. 2009) from WSIPP
see Appendix A4. Truancy Filing Rates

Seattle is listed for 2007-08 year with 1,508 unexcused absences as reported to OSPI with 442 continuing into a Truancy petition filed with the courts (29% filing rate). That seems incredibly low, averaging just 15 unexcused absences per school/per year being reported???

Maybe it has something to do with the big NCLB stick, which uses a cut-off of 1% unexcused absences for the AYP for each school. So explain again to me why the district wants to report EXCUSED absences and Tardies as truant offences?
Q&A Unexcused Absence Rates for AYP targets
Patrick said…
I can't believe so many people are defending blowing off school for a vacation. If you can't afford to go during winter break, midwinter break, spring break, summer break, Thanksgiving break, or one of the numerous three-day weekends throughout the year, maybe you just can't afford to go? Family time is important, but so is school. If this leads to intervention before the student is way behind in her/his studies, maybe it's a good thing.
Anonymous said…
MathTeacher42: You couldn't make my point any stronger.

So my family must be punished and put through the ringer because of your students' shenanigans.

No black helicopters. Just a district wasting its time lazily imposing blanket rules because of a few bad apples at a few schools.

This is not, and has never been, a serious problem with my family or at our schools.

Your problem, obviously, is that you have kids and families who do not value education enough to invest the time and effort to be there. It highlights the waste of time and money we continue to throw at problems that won't get fixed until the families themselves "buy in."

I sympathize with your frustrations, but again, your rationale and explanation demonstrates Nanny State thinking.

Black Helicopters? Please.

What I see is a district willing to punish all for the violations of a few, in order to make things look fair and equal versus picking on one school or group of kids who will cry "discrimination" when the school tries to discipline them for rule abuses, instead of redirecting efforts to increase the number of kids who WANT to go to school.

This is not a problem in my house, so you tell me: Why should my family be made to suffer for it?

FYI: This is exactly the kind of crap private school families hate and avoid public schools en masse because of.

Anonymous said…
Patrick: The people objecting aren't the ones who's kids are in trouble at school. We are the ones who play by the rules, tell the truth, show up, stay out of trouble, and do our homework. When, as a result of playing by the rules, we have an opportunity to take our kids on an enriching, educational vacation somewhere like Washington DC, we'd like our kids not to be punished and treated like criminals if they miss a day or two of school, even though they do their work and their grades don't suffer.

Furthermore, why is it allowed for a group of kids to go abroad with their teacher, paying 3k a person with some for-profit international student organization, but not with their family? We both know the reason, don't we? $$$.

Again, my rant is unreasonable, thoughtless restrictions placed upon my family for no reason at all. To help other kids? Yeah, right.

Next it will be school uniforms, because they allegedly improve grades and stuff. (Completely unproven, mind you). Actually, the owners of the GAP have invested millions in Ed Reform, and want their ROI's, but don't look there. They want you to believe it's all about equality between Johnny and Jake.

In case you haven't figured it out, much of this ties in with Ed Reform, again. Guilt is wielded as a big stick by reformers to beat down the opposition enough to open the doors to their profiteers who sell the books & uniforms, and will probably coding the software and filing on-line truancy petitions with the courts soon. Gotta love their ingenuity.

I just love the surrender-to-it mentality though: We have lots of kids who aren't coming to school, so let's pass a new rule that ropes in all the kids who aren't a problem too, instead of just dealing with the problem as it is.

Sounds a lot like their approaches to math, science, reading.......

I guess its just not fair to focus directly on the kids who need the help, or the discipline. It's easier to pass a rule that restricts everyone, while letting the kids in trouble continue to fall through the cracks. At least you can write "Implemented New Truancy/Unexcused Absence Policy" on your resume when you submit it for a Federal job someday.

They're so "all about the kids" aren't they?

Anonymous said…
uggest all parent readers here to check the Source profile on their kids throughout the year. We did and found 2 unexcused absences for one kid and 1 for another. Another mom found 2 listed for her son. The kids were sick on those days or came in late from doctor appointments (surgery) and the schools were notified. Turns out it was human error, and the mistakes got corrected. So heads up if they start to enforce this strict policy.

For our family, we don't get to choose when we get time off for vacation. We put in our requests and vacations are assigned based on senority. We get vacations at weird times i.e. October or Janurary, end of August, and some time when we are lucky, part of a school break (our usual request). Our careers are 24/7. We are on call, work weekends and holidays. We would love to have the major holidays, every weekend, and summer off, but we don't have jobs that follow those schedules. There are many people who work for companies and industries that operate around the clock, every day of the year.

We make a big effort to not miss school and work with the teachers to make sure the kids keep up with schoolwork when we do have to pull them out for short periods.

-Hoping common sense prevails
Anonymous said…
1. My biggest issue with the attendance policy change is the switch from a Board policy to a “Superintendent Policy.” That’s a big red flag. The Board is forfeiting future input on the policy.

(The justification for the policy made me laugh, as they stated “[reading and math] instruction is fractured and disrupted when the student misses it for any reason.” EDM is fractured and disrupted by design – it routinely switches from topic to topic. But I digress...)

2. Here is the key language for family trips:

“students whose absences are excused...are to be given the opportunity to make-up missed class work.”

If family trips are no longer excused absences, teachers may not have to give the students an opportunity to make-up work – would that mean zeros on tests and assignments? Teachers don’t need to make up “lessons to go,” but don’t you want to give them every opportunity to make up the work?

3. Next, where’s the documentation showing it’s comparable to other schools, public or private? The policy considers the following “excessive”:

*10 or more tardies
*20 or more excused absences per year (10 min tardy at secondary level, or 15 min at elementary level may be considered an absence)

For comparison, this is from a private school in Seattle:

*3 tardies equals one half day absence
*“Excessive” absences and tardies means more than 24 absences/year or more than 20 tardies/year(with an allowance for health emergencies).

4. From both the old and new policy:

“Seattle Public Schools will not file a [truancy] petition unless appropriate interventions are documented and the truancy continues.” Hopefully, petitions will not be filed unless necessary and the student performance is clearly suffering.

Signed, what's next
Anonymous said…
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Lori said…
Leaving aside the details of the proposed rule change, I have to say that I'm with Patrick in my surprise at how many people here seem to think pulling their kids out of school for a vacation is okay.

We have, what, 180 days of school each year? That leaves literally more than a half a year of days off for family time and educational trips and ski vacations. Of course kids will miss school when sick or for a rare event like Grandma's 80th birthday, a funeral, or a graduation. But other than that, I feel like if we want our kids to value education and take it seriously, we need to make it a priority and insist that they attend as scheduled, barring the rare events mentioned above.

People keep mentioning educational opportunities, but I guess I'm having trouble envisioning a case where I get a free or cheap trip to DC that I can't schedule at my convenience. DC is an awesome vacation spot for kids. Took my 7 year old there last summer, in fact, and we had a fantastic time. But we went when school wasn't in session, to supplement her learning, not to supplant it.

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned. My parents didn't have the money to take us on vacations, and they would have never pulled me out of school for one. I've internalized that message that school is a priority, and even though I can afford vacations, I think that in general, it sends a wrong message to go on vacation during class time.
dj said…
Lori, let me help you imagine such a thing. I am a professor, and I get my flight and board for free when I travel to a conference to present. Sometimes those conferences are during the public school calendar. But I guess taking advantage of that sort of travel opportunity for my child, and surrounding her with actual professional academics as well as taking her around places like DC, is not as advantageous for her as the day of school she misses when she so travels? Ha ha.
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
This isn't about education, it is about rules and policies. Just like the 3 strikes rule wasn't really about justice or what's right. If it was about education, you would see action on special ed policies, keeping counselors in schools, less coaches, some efforts to rein in spending downtown, MAP, etc. There are zillion of other issues this SPS admin can be focusing on.

Attendance is a serious issue for kids at risk. Making stricter rules, threats of court action, and fines are not going to fix that problem. What you will get is rousing the ire of parents who care about the kids, their kids' education, and their schools. Otherwise they wouldn't bother reading this blog, much less commenting on it.

Our schools have gone through many principal turnovers these past several years. We have had teachers with serious health issues that take them away from classrooms and left the kids with a series of (not so great) subs. We are understanding of these things even though they affect our kids' learning. We understand because at anytime we could be affected and would hope people can be just as understanding.

-Hoping for common sense
Charlie Mas said…
Hmmm wrote: "Math update states that:

* In middle school, between 51% and 54% meet or exceed typical growth

By definition, isn't "typical growth" the growth achieved by 50% of the norm group? So if it's between 51-54%, it's not saying much, is it?

Actually, Hmmm, by definition, 66% of students achieve typical growth, so saying that between 51% and 54% meet or exceed typical growth actually represents significant UNDER-PERFORMANCE.

"Also, areas of focus include:

* Use of adopted materials and resources

* Instruction based on State Standards

The adopted materials don't fully cover the State Standards (and in some cases work against them) - so focusing on State Standards would require less of a focus on the use of adopted materials. How is the district addressing this?

It is good of you to ask that question, Hmmm. Let's see if any of the Board asks it.
SP said…
I agree with "Signed, what's next" that Board Procedure being changed to Superintendent Procedure (which does not have to be approved by the Board) is taking us down a road with little to no oversight by the Board in the new procedure rule making. In fact, this Procedure (with a new definition of truancy even including EXCUSED absences like sickness and excused tardies) seems to be making new policy instead, with no Board oversight.
Charlie Mas said…
Let's also see if anyone on the Board bothers to ask about other data quirks in this presentation.

Such as...

Getting the percentage point gain wrong for All Ninth Graders Enrolled in Algebra 1A or Higher Level Course.

Given the fact that there is no lower level course than Algebra 1A available in our high schools, what math course (if any) are 11% of our ninth graders enrolled in?

A full 24% (one of every four) African-American 9th grade students are not enrolled in Algebra. What class are they taking?

I would like to see the overlap on this data. How many of those African-American students who are not enrolled in Algebra are also among the students with IEPs who are not enrolled in Algebra? How many of the Latino students not enrolled in Algebra are also ELL students?

I find the pass rates very discouraging.

The claim that "At the elementary level: more than 60% of students meeting or exceeding typical growth at each grade level" is nothing to brag about given that 66% is par for the course.
Anonymous said…
And there is, of course, the utter hypocrisy of the Board, staff and SI in imposing such rules on others and their children when they themselves never had to live under such stringent rules.

Targeted interventions from talented individuals? Nah. Large scale changes requiring new hires, more consultants, and more bloating at JSCEE? Of Course!

But what do they care? It won't affect any of them.

Do as I say, not as I've done.

Sooooo typical.

Lori said…
thanks for your example, dj. I too travel for work, going to Europe usually once a year and other parts of the US once or twice. However, since I'm busy working, having my family come with doesn't make a lot of sense because I don't have much time to do things with them.

Maybe your experience is very different and you have time to spare in that example. And, really, I do view this somewhat differently than pulling kids from school simply because the slopes are less crowded the week before mid-winter break than the week of break!
Sue said…
Re absence policy. If being consistently in school is of overarching importance, lets eliminate all the early dismissals and inservice days.

Those have been FAR more disruptive to learning and teaching that any family vacations we ever took.
Charlie Mas said…
Here's an interesting note from the proposed Policy 1005, Resposibilities and Authority of the Board:

"It is the duty and responsibility of the Board to set policy for, and provide governance and oversight of, the Seattle School District. The Board shall exercise those powers that are expressly provided by law, and those essential to the declared purposes and goals of the district."

This is the sort of language that isn't given much thought or attention, but it has surprising significance.

The Board members are required to take an Oath of Office when they are elected. That Oath of Office, by law, obligates them to fulfill the "duties and responsibilities" of the office.

Under the current policy, the Board members' duties and responsibilities included little more than attending the meeetings. The revised policy, which obliges them to enforce policy, is a big difference.

The difference matters because a Board member cannot be subject to recall unless they commit some act of malfeasance or violate their oath of office.

With this policy revision, any Board member who does not enforce policy will have failed to fulfill their duties and responsibilities and will, therefore, be in violation of the oath of office, and will, therefore, be vulnerable to recall.

Do you think they know that?

So imagine this scenario...

June 1, the Board adopts the new policy without revision.

June 2, a citizen reports the violation of a policy to the Board.

June 2 - July 2, the Board takes no action to enforce the policy.

July 5, the citizen files for a petition for recall for the Board members for violation of their oath of office because they did not fulfill their duty to enforce policy.
Anonymous said…
Last word on this is that this policy, from this SI and Board, is straight out of the Charter School playbook.

1. Put in "get tough" policies all over the place.
2. Build a record against the rule-breakers.
3. Kick them out of school and erase them from the books (& hence, your responsibility).
4. Artificially narrow your Achievement Gap and raise your graduation rates.
5. Hide your 40 to 50% attrition rates by erasing drop outs/kick outs from your books. (Poof!)

Result: Accomplish a lot in the eyes of the public, while actually doing nothing but jiggering statistics.

Ed Reform/Charters in a nutshell.

Bird said…
I have to say that I'm with Patrick in my surprise at how many people here seem to think pulling their kids out of school for a vacation is okay..

Perhaps it depends on the circumstance.

We took a Kindergartener out of class for a couple of days to visit relatives. Our Kindergartener was ahead of grade expectations by a couple of years and spending a lot of time in class thumb twiddling.

I do worry that it sends the message that education is not important, but so does sitting in a class without being taught. It was something of wash on that front.

If I had a kid in high school, or a kid who was behind, we wouldn't take them out.
Anonymous said…
Bellevue's attendance policy allows up to 3 days for pre-arranged absences (family commitments or non-school sporting activities).

3 or more unexcused tardies result in detention (and additional detentions at 6, 9, 12, and 15 tardies) and at 18, in-school suspension.

Did SPS even look at neighboring districts before writing this new policy?? SPS seems intent on punishing the parents, rather than the students.

Signed, what's next
Anonymous said…
Well Patrick & Lori,

Your kids must be learning a lot more during school hours than my kids are. Here is the introduction my older one gave to my younger child for 6th grade.

“Welcome to middle school. There is no thinking allowed. You are here to learn to jump through hoops and make grown-ups happy. You must never, ever be late for class. It is far more important to be on time for class than whether you learn anything once you get there. But don’t be too sad, because you can learn as much as you want to at home. They can’t stop you from thinking at home. Just don’t let on about it when you are at school.”

To be fair, my oldest had some really great teachers who encouraged critical thinking and learning beyond the curriculum, but they were rare enough that she considered them subversive.

Anonymous said…
That brings to mind a day my child was home sick - too sick to go to school, but well enough to sit on the couch and listen to me read. At the end of the day, the comment was something like this: "Mom, can I stay home more often? I learned more today than I have all month in school."

Chris S. said…
I really liked what WSEADAWG said at 9:48am:
"I guess its just not fair to focus directly on the kids who need the help, or the discipline. It's easier to pass a rule that restricts everyone, while letting the kids in trouble continue to fall through the cracks."

Nails a lot of stuff that is going on. I haven't taken my kids out for vacation yet, but I have to confess I contemplated engineering a vacation during MSP week. Maybe they read my mind.
Anonymous said…
Student Assignment and/or Waiting List Status for 2011.
Anonymous said…
Has anyone seen data for how many students this would affect at each school? i.e., how many students currently exceed 20 excused vs unexcused absences a year? How many tardies does each child average per year per grade level?

Aren't these the questions you'd ask before instituting such a policy?

Where's the data?
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
The part about Excused Absences being part of the problem is absolutely ridiculous. My kid has caught three different bugs that were going around this year...and three times, I brought him back to school when I thought he was ready, but the school nurse didn't. He was sent home three different times from school because he was too sick for the school to want to have him there. Even with me dragging him in before the bugs were completely gone, we've racked up over 20 days of excused absences this year. Talk about a Catch-22.

Meg said…
It looks as if the state is strongly considering funding districts on average daily attendance, possible starting as early as 2012-13. I would guess that this is part of what has prompted the district to move forward with this attendance policy.

Parents and guardians are going to disagree with one another about appropriate reasons for elementary students to miss school. I happen to be pretty casual about attendance and tardiness, which makes me exactly the kind of parent the district wants to bust. But attendance issues are a parent/guardian decision, not a district one.

District administration isn't going to change the actions of parents/guardians making attendance decisions that hurt their student's academics. They're just going to create a lot of red tape and hassle for everyone else. And it looks to me as if enforcement of this will either add additional burden to principals or create more administration.
Also a parent said…
Thanks Meg, I knew there had to be a reason other than the one stated.

Removing short family trips from the list of "excused" absences seems unduly restrictive, as does making excused absences (due to illness, etc) cause for discipline or court action.

Let's hope the Board does their homework on this one, votes no, and proposes a more reasonable alternative.

One can hope.
Lori said…
"It looks as if the state is strongly considering funding districts on average daily attendance, possible starting as early as 2012-13"

Sigh. Any other fans of "The Wire" out there? Remember the season where the one character was paid to round up truant kids, have them drop by school to be counted for attendance (and thus funding), then allowed to go back to the streets for the drug trade?

In both cases, I guess fighting truancy is about funding, not improving student outcomes. Sad.
SP said…
Meg- That's really interesting about "pay for daily attendance". Any links for more info or where you heard this from?

Specifically I wonder if Excused Absences will be included in the paid category or not. From all of the state's rules it seems that Excused absences would be included (as paid), and this absurd notion of "Excessive Excused tadies" (10/per year) and "Excessive Excused absenses" (<20/year) leading to a possible Truanct petition is absurd and a Seattle-only invention. Unlike Seattle, the state law clearly defines only Unexcused absences for truancy (and no mention of excused or unexcused tardies at all) which can leadto possible truancy petitions.

Apparently the head of the SPS Truancy department Ruth McFadden is the person pushing for these changes as she has said that it is not the unexcused absences which are a problem, but it is the parents writing excused absences which they want to crack down on (as if dragging a kid out of class for a truancy hearing will help a first grader succeed!). There's got to be a more effective way to get kids in the classroom than that!

This still really bothers me when I know from experience that a kid who has an ongoing illness (and even hospital stays) can easily rack up more than 20 excused absences in a school year.
Meg said…
I got my hands on a recent Friday update. In the budget section of the update it said:

"One final note worth special mention is that it appears the legislature is still looking at funding districts on Average Daily Attendance beginning as early as 12-13. A bill that came out of the conference committee negotiations mandates that districts begin reporting this data in January 2012. I can only assume this is a precursor to attempting to fund districts this way starting in 12-13"
Meg said…
I have a bunch of problems with this policy change.

1. It will affect all families with students in elementary school, but is aimed at a small portion of students: those performing below academic standards who have poor (but excused) attendance

2. The background information makes no connection between more stringent district attendance policies and improved attendance of struggling students with poor but excused attendance

3. The background information has no indication that any other methods for increasing the attendance of poorly performing elementary students were researched

4. There is no assessment of the impact of enforcement. Will it add to principals' workloads? Will it create additional administrative jobs? Not even a top-line glance is made at this one, although "we might get $100 each time we file!" is mentioned. I kid you not. Although, to be fair, the administrator who made note of the $100-ish per filing did not include an exclamation point.

5. There's no corollary for students performing above standard, which would be logical (since the policy appears to be aimed at students performing below standard) but unfair (as it would be more restrictive to more low-income families and less restrictive to more higher-income families). To me, this particular issue really highlights the lack of thinking in this policy.

There's a whole lot of opinion throughout the background, but it doesn't appear that there's been any real, well... thought.
Anonymous said…
It doesn't look like this attendance policy will really change anything.
--- Not Too Worried
dj said…
Does anyone have a report on what the Board did with the attendance policy last night?
Anonymous said…
The attendance policy was for introduction last night.
dj said…
Thank you, anonymous, but I confess I do not know what that means in terms of (1) was there discussion about it, or is discussion on a different date, and (2) when the board actually votes.
Anonymous said…
I am a teacher at a high school comprised of mostly high perfoming students. So far- for the second semester- I have 971 class absences. The majority of these absences are excused. This is a fairly typical or consitent number from year to year.
Each time a student is absent, the teacher must meet with that student to dicuss work, tests lessons, that have been or will be missed and made arangements for that work to be completed or test proctored separate from the rest of the class. If I spend three minutes for each absence that equals 2913 minutes this semester or 48.55 hours.
someone said…
According to a statement put out May 24th by Randy Dorn, the average daily attendance requirement didn't pass

"I understand that the Legislature had a difficult job to do. I worked very closely during the session with legislators to minimize the cuts to education. A number of potentially harmful ideas did not pass, such as reducing the length of the school year, changing how districts receive state money to include students’ average daily attendance, cutting levy equalization and changing how school buses are paid for."
SP said…
Good point the anomymous teacher just made, about having 971 excused absences this semester so far. But the issue is, should the school district be in the business of deciding which of these excused absences are legitimate or not and more to the point, HOW would that be done equitably?

No other district that I can find has an "Excessive Excused Absence" policy which leads to truancy petitions (including 10 or more excused tardies in elementary schools). How can the district decide if my kid really has the flu and should not be in class spreading germs...but oh, wait, the excused absence will be counted towards truancy?

This proposal is totally absurd and goes against any of the district's health guidelines, for one thing. Additionally, the policy also includes that a note from a doctor may be required to excuse an "excessive" number of days for an illness or injury. So... a doctor's note is still required for an excused absence BUT even then, these excused absences from a doctor can accumulate and lead to a truancy petition? Unbelievable!
Meg said…
My initial reaction about the attendance policy was really frustrated - for whatever reason, it really, really annoys me. That said, after thinking it over, I think there are some basic, practical questions about its implementation.

1. What will expense of enforcement be?

Implementation and enforcement of this policy will likely involve work for people in and out of the building; that's not free, even if you use existing resources (since you are usually left with the choice of paying for more time or dumping other tasks to free up work time). Getting the work done may involve hiring additional administrators downtown, in schools or both, (elementary school do not have attendance staff, as high schools do).

2. Will the change in policy change the behavior of the various target families - for instance, non-English-speaking families?

I have serious doubts that it will. I have some concerns that the punitive approach may place additional burdens on the target families, as well as families who have students with a lot of excused absences but who aren't struggling.

So the board will approve the implementation of a policy that could be expensive to attempt to enforce, and is unlikely to work.

I didn't realize the workload that absences could place on teachers. I don't want to pooh-pooh that. But this policy is pretty particularly aimed at elementary school students. Do you think excused absences are as high a burden for elementary school teachers? My son, with absences in 5th grade, was given make-up work, whether he was sick or we were away (I am absolutely one of the parents with casual attitudes towards attendance that the district hates here, except my kids are at standard). But in earlier grades they weren't assigned make-up work. I don't know the answer on how excused absences affect teacher workload.

Clearly, the world won't end when the board passes this policy. I just wish they'd stop saying "yes!" to poorly conceived ideas that cost money and probably won't work.
Anonymous said…
The following districts allow for pre-arranged excused absences (with parental request and school approval):


And those are just the few I've checked. I have yet to find a district that explicitly disallows an excused absence for approved family trips.

Seattle's proposed policy is unduly restrictive compared with neighboring districts.

SPS parent
Anonymous said…
Several districts have detailed procedures for unexcused or excessive absences - automated calls home, letters to guardians, required meetings - an actual written, detailed plan to address the issue at the school and district level.

How hard is it to assess policies of neighboring districts, prior to introducing this off-the-wall stuff?

Anonymous said…
Just curious: Are none of the 2913 minutes overlapping with minutes that would have been spent on that student in class, had they been in attendance? In other words, are any of those minutes being double-counted or redundant? If a kid misses 5 days, is it presumably 15 minutes of additional teacher time, over and above everything else, with no overlap?

I certainly get that anything that complicates a teacher's job makes it harder, more time consuming, more burdensome and distracting. No question. But since those 3 minute bits are presumably spent during working hours, does that mean the teacher is working those 2913 minutes over and above what they'd normally work?

Is it that black and white, or is there some gray and redundancy in there.

My concern is how the district loves to use inflated, unscientific, inaccurate numbers and statistics to push policies, when in fact, upon closer inspection, problems often wind up being far less severe than originally thought.

While I trust the teachers' feelings on this subject, I feel great caution and ominous warnings to be very careful what we wish for.

Meg, you are right that there is no correlation between excessive absences and academic achievement as measured by MSP. The demographic with the highest absentee rate is white and they also have the highest achievement levels. Does the trend change when looked at via FRL and ethnicity?
Can we get that break down?
Anonymous said…
Here are some interesting numbers from 2005-06 for average daily unexcused absences:

The Numbers (Washblog, 4/11/07)

Cleveland: 13.0%
Rainier Beach: 12.9%
Franklin: 10.4%
Sealth: 8.9%
Ingraham: 6.7%
Ballard: 4.8%
Garfield: 4.7%
Center School: 4.1%
Nathan Hale: 3.5%
Roosevelt: 2.8%
West Seattle: 2.8%

From the article, According to Jennifer Railsback, there is evidence that an overly strict or harsh attendance policy can be counterproductive.

a reader
Anonymous said…
Another good report on truancy and the Becca Law from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy:

A 2000 report found that in Seattle Public Schools, the act of filing a petition had no effect on whether those students remained in school. There was some evidence that the increased filing of petitions served as a deterrent to other students.

...In only three other [states] (Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas) was the approach similar to Washington’s in requiring school districts to initiate a court case
after a specified number of unexcused absences.

...Compared with all other high school students, students with a truancy petition were significantly more likely to be over-age for their grade, have a lower grade point average (GPA) and be absent for more days. In addition, petitioned youth were more likely to be low income as indicated by receipt of free or reduced price lunch and to be members of a racial or ethnic minority.

...We found no relationship between district filing rate or court intensity on the four outcomes we analyzed: dropping out of school, days attended the following year, on-time graduation, and future crime.

a reader
Anonymous said…
I suppose college visits will now be considered unexcused absences...

In Wisconsin, deer hunting is considered an excused absence in some schools.

SPS parent
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