Tuesday Open Thread

A new group has come about called the Community Forums Network.  They have a survey going until October 28th to ask about spending on K-12 education.  They have rather an interesting way to reward you - you get to select a nonprofit organization to receive points towards earning a grant.

I think this could be an interesting start to better public engagement and consensus building so it's worth a look at.

Hey, it's just two weeks until election day.  How are you feeling about this election season - too long, too short? 

I note that both President Obama and Mr. Romney diverged off the foreign policy topic last night and talked education for a bit.  Mr. Romney right away went for the tired "teachers union" point, vaguely mentioned vouchers (without saying the word) and tried to take credit for success in Mass. that happened before he was Governor. 

President Obama was not all that much better but he talked about trying to hire more math/science teachers AND gave Romney a slam on class size.  Apparently, Romney, like Bill Gates, thinks class size doesn't matter.

What's on your mind?


Anonymous said…
Reader opinion at Everett Herald today. Refreshing use of the slang word malarkey.


Public School Parent
Anonymous said…
I must be so old fashioned. My daughter started 6th grade this year in a new school. We are new to SPS. We learned at curriculum night that they don't use the science books because they are from 1995 and out of date. They use worksheets as appropriate. They don't have a math book either of their own. Worksheets come home every night. That curriculum is being cobbled together by a resourceful math teacher who subtlely let us know his real feelings about our math curriculum. Social studies has a book but it has to stay in the room because, well, they share them among classes. Homework is done online via reading assignments posted in fusion. Or reading assignments from the Seattle Times. And in LA they don't have books either (not so odd) because they read their own books and do a lot of journal writing.

My child's teachers seem great. But the lack of materials seems really, well, below standard. Is it common to be cobbling together materials for kids in middle school like this? And should we expect this until high school?

--Old fashioned because I had books in school
Maureen said…
Old fashioned, if it makes you feel any better, my son's college Bio professor told them he doesn't care if they buy the ($90 used)textbook, they can just study from the notes he posts and look up anything else on Wikipedia (and this is not at a school that is hurting for money.) If I were you, I would just be thankful my daughter isn't required to schlepp thirty pounds of books home every night!
Anonymous said…
If your math teacher is veering away from Discovery Math, then be happy. The current math curriculum used by SPS has been panned for years and many parents have complained about it, along with math and science professors from the universities. The curriculum from grade school through high school was adopted by previous administrators who were infatuated with Discovery Math. They left their mess behind them.

Superintendent Banda has been making good comments about an overhaul of the math curricula. With new directors on board who are smarter about math, it could happen. But parents should keep the pressure on.

S parent
suep. said…
Random question du jour: Does anyone know the magic number required in elementary enrollment for a school to be assigned an asst. principal?

Lori said…
suep, the number is 450 students.

Anonymous said…
My principal, John Miner, in yesterday's school newsletter, asked parents to write to the school board to support Thornton Creek becoming a Creative Approaches (CA) school.

Thornton Creek is already an alternative school. What advantage is there to its converting to a CA school?

I see significant disadvantages to the CA construct. It looks too much like a privatized public school. There are many well-known problems with charter schools.

The CA schools bear enough resemblance to charter schools, that we can be confident that many or most of the issues that plague charter schools will come to haunt the CA schools.

It looks like what has happened is that the District has tried to traditionalize our alternative schools, so that people will welcome independence in the form of the "Creative Approach" construct.

CA is a false solution to a manufactured problem.

I wrote to the board as a Thornton Creek parent, to oppose John's recommendation.

Long-time Thornton Creek parent and opponent of privatization of public schools.
suep. said…
Thanks, Lori!
Unknown said…
Long-Time, a couple of questions.
1) has the plan been laid out to the community and/or vetted by the community?

2) has the plan been okayed by your PTA?

3) if not, why is he asking for support when you don't know what the plan is or what the changes would look like?

Anonymous said…
Great questions Melissa,

1. Not that I have noticed. Maybe vetted at Site Council meetings, but this is not well-attended, and not attended by me.

2. We do not have a PTA. We have a Site Council. I am not aware of Site council having solicited views from the community on this, nor do I recall any community meetings being called to discuss this.

There have been community meetings on BEX-related proposals having to do with TC physical plant, but, to the best of my knowledge, not on a proposal to convert TC to a CA school.

In any case, in my opinion, the views of Site Council are not necessarily representative of the dominant views of the school community.

2. I don't know. I can only speculate that this is an example of how deft John Miner is at keeping "Downtown" happy.

I hope Chris S. can jump in here and answer these questions better than I have.


Anonymous said…
FYI, some Fall MAP scores are up on the Source.

Anonymous said…
Long time, I'm another TC parent. I believe the Creative Approach school suggestion has been vetted at site council, but moreover there were a bunch of community feedback opportunities last spring.

I admit it hasn't been my focus, but to me the greatest advantage being a Creative Approach school is the ability to opt out of the district math curriculum. Really, if it does nothing else, I'm happy to write asking for it. I don't think it anything like privatizes the school- just potentially lets you out of certain curriculum requirements and possibly some MAP testing, which seems in line with the school philosophy generally.

I think that we should be a Creative Approach school specifically because we are an alternative school- if we want to actually use alternative curriculums and approaches, we can't ALSO have to use all the district regular curriculum and standards. There's not time for both.

-sick of the New Math
Chris S. said…
The site council has been kept up-to-date and parents are invited to participate at each step. Whether anyone has stepped up, I don't know.

IMHO, and based on Julian's excellent documents, I believe Alt School principals were "used" in the bargaining part for some specific CBA exemptions but staff & the Holly Miller crowd got it turned into the super-broad CBA exemption language.

I am neutral on the alt schools using this opportunity to Get what they Need. I don't think it will matter much in the long run, compared to the huge impact I1240 could have. OK, gotta go vote!
Anonymous said…
I checked the weekly school newsletters all the way back to early Feb 2012. I looked at both the principal's note, and the site council notes.

I found numerous mentions of BEX 4, and fate of Thornton Creek. I saw that a Town Hall meeting and an online survey was conducted to get community input on the BEX proposal for TC.

I found not a single mention anywhere of the Creative Approach Schools.

If there were discussions at Site Council about TC becoming a CA school, my guess is that it was limited to the Principal's Report agenda item.

Chris please confirm whether this is true.

The recent school board minutes say that "Assuring that there is substantial community involvement in establishing the school. This includes assuring that at least a majority of families are actively engaged in and support the creative approach."

IMHO, this standard has not been met at Thornton Creek:

I don't think discussions and/or decisions limited to those who happen to attend a Thornton Creek Site council meeting meets the standard of broad community input and support.

a T.C. parent.
Anonymous said…
I wonder if TC is getting aligned to become a charter to ensure they won't loose their building in he next BEX.

SPS Parent
Anonymous said…
I could be wrong, but isn't there something in the funding structure from the state that essentially shafts "alternative" schools? Or maybe district-level funding?

Just bringing it up because that would be an advantage to switching from being an alternative school to a CA school...
Charlie Mas said…
There's little doubt that the District has executed a series of horsetrades to wash their hands of several irritants, including alternative schools and instructional materials waivers, with the Creative Approach Schools MOU.

There was a time when the alternative schools were in full revolt. The District feigned a willingness to address the issues by promising to seriously review and comply with the Alternative Education policy C54.00.

But then they shifted that over to convening an Alternative School Task Force. That Task Force, however, was limited in membership to a select few alternative school principals and it was led into a stagnant pool by its chair, John Miner.

The District tried to send its instructional materials waiver plan into that black hole, but Director DeBell, who championed that waiver idea, refused to allow it. After all, he knew that the Alternative School Task Force was a dead end and a ruse.

So here we are today. The Alternative Education Policy is still un-reviewed, un-revised, and un-enforced. There isn't even a schedule for the policy's review. It shows as TBD on the District's policy review timetable.

The community has been routed by the District through some strategic terrorism applied to NOVA, Thornton Creek, Jane Addams, and Pinehurst. They are too focused on survival to worry about protecting their rights.

The District hasn't had to reform anything or do any work. It's a perfect solution for them. Meanwhile, the community has forgotten all about their revolution. They were lulled to sleep by committee.
Charlie Mas said…
The only alternative schools shafted by the District's funding are The Center School, The NOVA Project, South Lake High School, and The World School because they are not funded through WSS.
Anonymous said…
It seems the question is what do people want for alt schools.
A math waiver is one thing, maybe in the future there will different cirricula at the same school. But an alt school, I only knownSalmon Bay, but it has such a 70's hippy vibe. I don't see how it fits in the with the new NSAP. It would be nice to see the unique features they offer introduced at other schools. Isn'tbthat what the ideal was back in the early days?

Flower Power
Anonymous said…
Old Fashioned - it is below standard.

The discovery approach has permeated almost all subjects. Science uses exploratory style hands-on kits, but there's little content to go along with them. The reading and writing curriculum is based on the elementary Readers and Writers Workshop, which does little to explicitly teach academic writing. Teachers use online resources that sometimes aren't fact checked. I could go on.

On the positive side, if the math teacher doesn't strictly follow the text and supplements with additional work, be thankful. Also, if you know the title and publication date of the social studies text, you may be able to find an inexpensive used copy on Amazon.

a parent
Anonymous said…
Kay Smith-Blum sent out an email today addressing (among other subjects) "FTE Adjustments Based on 10/1/12 Enrollment Numbers," in which she indicates that some schools may be losing a homeroom, as "one or more teacher may be taken away."

Does anyone know of a school - other than Lincoln - that is in this position? I would very much like to know how common this is.

The District granted Lincoln a staff allocation of 21 homeroom teachers in the spring based on an enrollment count of 530. The October enrollment count came in at 523 (524?), and apparently the District has now concluded that the school can get by with 20 teachers if the school eliminates a third grade classroom and creates a 2/3 split now, ergo reassigning classrooms to a number of third AND second graders. Note that the lowest class size currently existing is about 22, it is not as though there are half-occupied classrooms in the building.

It seems beyond the pale for the District to try to force a mixed-grade classroom into a school at this point in the year - shouldn't we have an expectation of better academic planning?

Is anyone else facing an issue such as this?

How Low Can Your Expectations Go?
Linh-Co said…
Thorton Creek does not use Everyday Math. They have an
"understanding" with the district even it it's not an official math waiver. John Miner and his staff chose TERC Investigations. It is still garbage math just with a different name. TC has been using this for about 3 years and it's being funded by the parents.

Jan said…
Dear "How Low" -- I think it has always been thus. They "start" the year, give enrollment a period of time to settle down and stabilize, and then make adjustments.

What surprises me is that your principal was not all over this issue from the day that the first nose count came back below 530. She should have been working to see whether it was possible to get a waiver, be considered a rounding error -- whatever. If the answers were coming back "bad," she should have started the planning process for this change weeks ago -- pulled the teachers in to collaborate, maybe even changed the classrooms early to her new preferred configuration (the split class could have had two teachers for the interim). AT a minimum, kids (and families) could have been warned this might be coming, selections could have been made regarding who would work best in the split class (both as teacher and as students) and they could have gotten a heads up.

This is not ideal for L@L -- but it could have been predicted and handled in a manner less disruptive than what you describe. And -- as the school with the "extra" teacher -- you actually had the resources to start the shift early. Teachers in the schools with 35 or 36 to a class, who will GET an extra teacher and have to reconfigure their classes to accommodate the new class don't have this luxury (they couldn't very well reconfigure the classes to form a new one, and leave that "new" class with no teacher).

If this happens next year, don't wait for your hand to be forced. These adjustments can be a minor pain in the neck, or a big hassle. Your building administration needs to work to deliver the former.
Jan said…
Dear Old Fashioned: I tend to concur with "a parent." It is probably "below standard." But -- there are a number of brilliant educators who think that MOST text books are flabby, poorly written (often by committees of not terribly bright folks -- and then reviewed by other committees of even less bright folks). Often, they contain numerous errors where they are flat wrong. Even when they are "correct, rarely are they inspiring. Most are blah, insipid lumps of pulp, which NO one would read for pleasure, and few would read for knowledge -- if not forced. Just read the questions at the ends of chapters, and the suggestions for activities.

My child's Glencoe Geometry book (we don't do Discovery math at my house, and I will not be gainsaid on this issue) was full of drivelly boxes extolling examples of "geometry in the community." My kid and I would read them and laugh at how pathetic they were.

With intelligent, inspired teachers driving the selection of other materials, you may well come out way ahead by using a number of sources, instead of the twaddle that you get with many texts. The downside -- to me -- is that dispersed materials makes it hard to pull all the information you have studied together, when you want to review for an exam -- or just go back and revisit a concept. If there are enough parents to help, you might propose to the teachers a group of parents to pull together and print out (or at least keep track of the links) for ALL the material. That way, a child who has missed something, or needs to refer back but no longer has the "handout" with the URL, etc. etc. has access to the resources. You can set up websites or blog groups, or you can do hardbound copies for class reference, or both. But without that "stitched binding," it can become hard to keep all the material organized, particularly for kids with organizational deficits or ADD, or who live in chaotic households.
Anonymous said…
I just read through all the Thorton Creek Site Council minutes that are currently available on thorntoncreek.org They Run from Aug 2011 thru May 2012

There are many mentions of Creative Approach schools by John Miner in his principal's reports. Never once was any vote taken on the matter.

John Miner asked for input at only one meeting among the published minutes. He submitted a Declaration of Intent and an application without getting approval from Site Council not direction from Site Council to take these actions. The minutes show that he merely informed SC that he had taken action or was planning to take action.

John Minor reported that he and "a couple other principals" were part of the team that crafted the original MOU, and that the effort took six months, so of course he has a stake in having TC apply for CA status.

TC Parent
Anonymous said…
We just received a letter saying our 7th grader may be eligible for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. We'll probably to to the info session but I'd love to hear from anyone who knows about the program or has first hand experience with it. Thanks.

Hamilton mom
Jet City mom said…
Hamilton mom, they have some programs to supplement school year academics as well as summer programs - what your child is eligible for is dependent on SAT scores.
It really depends on your child's interest what to take advantage of, but while our kids decided against the summer programs, many kids love it.
Unknown said…
Hamilton mom, do it. It's worth it and your child will likely get a lot out of it. Take advantage of these opportunities as they come (if you look into it and believe it will be good for your child).
NESeattleMom said…
Hamilton Mom, re: John Hopkins Center for talented youth, How much does the program cost?
Anonymous said…
Hamilton mom, you might also look into Stanford University's Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY). It's similar, but a little less expensive. We have done EPGY for several years now, and it has worked well for my son (also at Hamilton). I'm not up on the pros/cons of the two different programs, but I do recall seing somewhere that CTY uses EPGY software for math, at least for middle school ages and up.

Another Hamilton mom
Anonymous said…
What about a kid that has zero interest in doing computer based math lessons, but wants more accelerated math?

Any suggestions?

Charlie Mas said…
wondering, have a look around Math and Stuff in Maple Leaf.
suep. said…
@ TC parent, this unsettling story of a (rogue?) principal pushing ahead to change a school without community input or majority support is exactly what is frightening about the "trigger" mechanism in I-1240, which allows a school to convert to a charter with only 51 percent of teachers or parents' approval. Too bad for the other 49 percent, apparently. I'm sorry to hear the CA Schools option being used this way.

@ Jan who said... "(...)What surprises me is that your principal was not all over this issue from the day that the first nose count came back below 530. She should have been working to see whether it was possible to get a waiver, be considered a rounding error -- whatever. If the answers were coming back "bad," she should have started the planning process for this change weeks ago -- pulled the teachers in to collaborate, maybe even changed the classrooms early to her new preferred configuration (the split class could have had two teachers for the interim). AT a minimum, kids (and families) could have been warned this might be coming, selections could have been made regarding who would work best in the split class (both as teacher and as students) and they could have gotten a heads up.

This is not ideal for L@L -- but it could have been predicted and handled in a manner less disruptive than what you describe."

Sigh. Yes indeed. It could have and should have been handled differently, like so many other things at the school.

Meanwhile Lincoln families recently learned that the school's admin and some of the teachers have "volunteered" to make our kids guinea pigs in a pilot for some kind of mysterious new test connected to Common Core, which even our school board hasn't been informed about.

While over at the south end APP school, Thurgood Marshall, they are 'piloting' better math.
Anonymous said…
To Wondering:
You could also hire a private tutor, there are many math college and UW students who are looking for evening / weekend job.
But also, don't think that an online math course is really boring and there are many advantages also taking one: you don't have to drive anywhere, nobody comes to your house, your student can do the program when she/he feels like it with no waiting time for the other students, you can see her/his progress clearly, there are white board sessions when your student could communicate with the other students and the teacher, and it can be rightly challenging without the countless and boring repetitions in a regular class, etc.
Math mom
Anonymous said…
For those that have applied for Advanced Learning testing this year, have you received a letter with test dates?

-still waiting
TechyMom said…
The Saturday math classes through the UW Robinson Center are quite good. They aren't acceleration, but rather deep dives into particular topics. They have no any admission requirements, and start every quarter.

Still waiting,
Me too. We haven't gotten a letter yet.
Anonymous said…
For the Lincoln APP parents, here's the district FY13 staff/funding adjustment data:


PS mom
Anonymous said…
sueP It seems probable that at TC if a poll were taken we would find that there is majority support for TC to convert to a so-called Creative Approaches School.

The problem is that the standards for broad community input into the plan have not been met.

“The process for applying to be a creative approach school involves: …2.) Completing the application with broad community input.”

Source: Feb. 14, 2012 School Board Action Report, attachment to Minutes of the Oct 3. 2012 school board legislative meeting.

“On September 8 [2012] the Executive Committee met and discussed taking steps to assure that several issues are addressed as Creative Schools move forward. The following issues have been identified: …Assuring that there is substantial community involvement in establishing the school. This includes assuring that at least a majority of families are actively engaged in and support the creative approach. “

Source: Sept 28, 2012 School Action Report, Attached to Minutes of the Oct. 3, 2012 Legislative Session of the School Board.

If TC parents understood the following issues, they would be less supportive of the proposal.

1. the meaning of the term "increased accountability" (this is in the MOU)

2. There will be expectations on John and his successors to

(a) seek waivers of collective bargaining agreements, and

(b) channel public dollars to private vendors

Site Council minutes indicate that John has NOT aprised parent/teachers of any of these issues.

Enforcement of C54 would obviate the need for CA schools.
Anonymous said…
What does "increased accountability" mean?

This phrase is part of the classical definition of charter schools.

It means that charter schools (and now Creative Approach Schools) live and die by their test scores.

Will this not likely cause in our CA schools the same problems this policy causes in charter schools?

1. CA schools requiring parents and students to enter into non-binding agreements with the school. SPS/SEA call these "compacts." This discourages kids without strong support at home from applying for the lottery. This contributes to the "skimming" problem of charter schools.

2. Counselling out underperforming kids and special ed kids.

3. With waivers from District discipline policies, CA schools will be able to expel underperforming kids and special ed kids for minor discipline issues. These ousters will occur after Oct. 1, so that the schools retain the funding (unless district adopts rules to address this).

2. CA schools will orient instruction around tests, since they need to make AYP on a consistent basis to stay open.

TC Parent
Maureen said…
TC Parent, I feel like you are overplaying the lack of community input thing. I was a parent at a different Alt school that couldn't get its act together to file to be a CA school. I knew all about TC's application. I even attended a meeting at TOPS where John Miner and the Nova principal answered tons of questions about the process (there were several TC parents there as well). I have had lots of experience at trying to get families to listen to school announcements so I can see how you might have missed all of the opportunities to participate, but that doesn't mean they didn't happen. I hope you are taking this up with your Site Council and not just talking about it here.
Charlie Mas said…
"broad community input" has not been defined. We are told it will vary from school to school.

This is from a District which has classified talking to principals as community engagement.
Anonymous said…

As I already mentioned, there was no effort whatsoever to make any announcement to the community about this CA application.

So it is not correct that I missed multiple announcements inviting me and others to participate.

Charlie's point is well-taken.
Anonymous said…
I thought the AL office didn't mail letters until Nov?

Can everyone see fall MAP scores? My student's scores aren't up.

, Also wondering
Anonymous said…
Maureen, I didn't see any announcement in any newsletter about a meeting at TOPS. In any case, a meeting at TOPS is not the appropriate location for John to engage the TC community on a proposal for TC to apply.
Anonymous said…
Standards-based grading - what is it? From a random search, the 1-4 scores were defined as follows:

4: The student is working consistently beyond the expected grade level for that standard. The student knows the "why" and "how" behind what he or she does and can transfer learning into new situations.

3: The student works consistently on grade level expectations and can explain the how and why behind it. The student can take that knowledge and apply it in different settings.

2: The student is inconsistent in their performance of grade level expectations. The student can achieve grade level material in rote fashion but struggles using it in new situations.

1: The student needs help in order to complete grade level expectations.

If the standards are about the "why" and "how," yet the teacher grades more on presentation rather than substance, are these grades even more meaningless? What if they are in a class that is already working above grade level?

If a middle school is teaching high school level classes for which some students will request HS credit, do they still need to report letter grades for GPA calculations?

SPS parent
Lori said…
Responding to Jan from 10/23 about the APP@Lincoln staff situation because it's important that all of us understand the new budget realities.

This situation could *not* have been predicted by any principal because it is not related to the Weighted Staffing Standards. I have links to all the documents for whoever wants them, but here's how the story unfolds.

Early last spring, Lincoln was projected to have 550 kids and WSS allocated 22 classroom teachers.

An adjustment was made in April to reduce our allocation to 21 classroom teachers based on updated projections that had our enrollment at 521 students.

Our October enrollment was 524 students. Based on WSS, that's 21 teachers. So we are actually OVER our projected enrollment but losing a classroom teacher.

This is the new reality for all of our schools, and this could happen to any school next year. Basically, district staff looked school-by-school for opportunities to "collapse" grade levels and move students into other classrooms to cut staff. Their goal was to maximize the number of students in each class, right up to (but ideally not exceeding) the teacher contract limits of 26/class for K-3 and 28/class for 4-5.

We have six 3rd grades and four 2nd grades right now, but each is 2-3 students below the contractual maximum. By the district's new math, they decided that we could cut a 3rd grade class, create a 2/3 split and only have to pay a few teachers the overload fees. To the district, this is an acceptable way to save money. I personally have nothing against split classes, but I don't think it's appropriate to create one in November, particularly when it means that some kids will be "demoted" and separated from the rest of their age peers for the entire school day.

Bottom line: if you are a relatively large elementary school with multiple classes per grade, you could be in this situation next year, even though you are staffed according to the WSS. If your classes have 23 or 24 kids instead of 26, you too may lose a teacher next fall depending how the math works out.
Jan said…
Thanks, Lori. Looks like I stand corrected. I had thought this could have (reasonably) been predicted. To Lori's point, based on what she relates I guess what is now "predictable" is the circumstance that she describes in her last paragraph -- where ANY downward variance from max numbers puts the school in the crosshairs. If it had been a WSS issue, I thought the L@L principal should have been more proactive. I agree with Lori that no principal (at least this year) should be criticized for not seeing this coming.

Any chance this is just a "one year" budget thing -- caused by the state's decision to reduce district funding AFTER all the labor contracts, etc. had been signed?

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