Following Up on the Equitable Access Framework Work Session

The two items I took away from this Work Session on April 10th were these:
  • The phrase "differentiating resource allocation" came up prominently.  I didn't really hear the Directors call it out but my own notes reflect "uh oh."  I say that because the Strategic Plan - in its early stages - seems to lean towards closing the achievement gap rather than supporting ALL students and their learning.  Differentiating resource allocation would tend to support that view.  
And, with parents putting in more and more financial support to schools, I can see where some
schools could become resentful of their efforts being taken for granted as the district guides
money in certain directions.

Director Patu called this one out and Michael Tolley said that it meant not necessarily "equal
support" but to support students who need help.
  • The other phrase was "academic assurances - basic education - for all students".  
One of my first concerns was page 7 of the PP which outlined Board Policy 2200 about equitable access and it was titled, "We've Made Commitments."  No, the Board wrote and passed a policy which has been largely ignored. Staff says, on page 10, "We have Board policy commitments we need to honor."   

Staff says, on page 10, that "We have gaps in Academic Assurances that are the result of three things:
- site-based decisions to offer attractive programs
- district funding of enhancements of other programs/services
- the belief that prioritizes helping those students behind grade level in order to close the achievement gap.

My notes don't reflect a discussion around these items on page 10 which I read as problems to staff.  If these are real problems that block academic assurances for all students, why wasn't that called out?

The gaps they call out specifically are:
- elementary counselors
- middle school intervention
- high school intervention
- high school career counselors
- assessments and technology
- summer school

The Families & Education levy will address at least some of those in a few schools.  I know the levy covers middle school intervention, career counseling and summer school (for high school only).

Academic Assurances is defined as having four key components:
- Basic education
- Special Education
- ELL (English Language Learners)
- Highly Capable

A pyramid on page 13 shows "curricular foci" - STEM, language immersion and IB -  at the top.  The middle of the pyramid are the "required basic services for the 14,764 students that receive Special Ed (7,000), Highly Capable (2064) and ELL (5,700)"

It was interesting to hear the questions asked during the Work Session.

For example, when they were discussing arts funding, the directors seemed disturbed that some schools did not appear to have arts instruction.  Staff explained that schools can use PCP funding but it doesn't always cover it.  There was also the issue that some schools don't have a endorsed arts teacher but provide it through the integrated arts approach.   It was stated that they analyzed outcomes and more students are likely to reach standard if they have an endorsed arts teacher.

They really need to get this program going stronger because the stronger this program (that will be integrating vocational ed WITH academics), the more students who will stay in school and graduate.  They will graduate ready to go onto jobs (or apprenticeships) or onto further training in community college.

But staff said they need the following:
- locate space in north and southwest region for skills center
- address cross-city transportation concerns
- identify facility funding

Oh, is that all?  Basically find space and money, not an easy task.  I despair that this will fall by the wayside and it shouldn't.

Special Education
Once again (and this is becoming a pattern), Director DeBell seemed to be complaining about the costs.   Is he blaming Seattle for being a big district with services that attract more students?  Is he saying the district doesn't deliver services in a cost-effective way?  I just don't know.

The facts are these:
- State funding covers 12.7% of student population; SPS has 13.3%.
- the Special Ed budget is $82M and the local levy covers about $31.8M

Staff says there are more students than funding, more "high-needs students" coming online, there are related services support activities to pay for and the need for more school psychologists.   But the next page, they gone on to say the next steps are to overhaul the delivery model, more PD and increase staffing-related services.  Do the two match up?  I'm not sure they do.

 Again, as with Sped, the "gaps" the staff names don't exactly match what they say they need.

Gaps; PD for teachers and administrators (presumably because of more inclusion classrooms); teachers who are dual-endorsed in ELL and general ed; transportation; number of languages (111)

Next steps: community engagement and PD

One interesting item to note is the statement that was made that, for some ELL families, if they don't have services at their neighborhood school, they will opt out of services to stay at their neighborhood school.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
Advanced Learning
I hadn't noticed this until now but unlike Sped and ELL, there is no "gaps" page for AL.  There is only next steps.  Those are:
- evaluate the student identification process
- evalute the current service delivery model (current model requires additional funding)
- revise Board policy
- ALO supported by PD for differentiated instruction

Again, I didn't hear any discussion around these items even though what it appears to say is "change the whole thing."  And, no, I don't know what "current model requires additional funding" means (but I'll ask).

Director Martin-Morris was very unhappy about the map on page 43.  He said it showed almost no students in the southern end of the city. He said, "Who can explain this to me?" and got dead silence.  They just moved on.

Director Carr asked about the funding they get for AL and asked if it was used for transportation and the AL office.  Duggan Harmon said yes but not transportation, just testing and the office staff.   (I believe those transportation dollars are a separate pot.)

Martin-Morris came back to his concern and said "How did this happen and what are we going to do about it?"  I understand his concern but he's been on the Board for six years and nothing is any different from when he started (except for larger numbers in APP and the disintegration of Spectrum).  I don't know how this is some big surprise to him.

He claims that families don't know if their child is capable.  Well, that really isn't so since they started using MAP.  Tolley said something I need to get clarified which was that MAP wasn't a "qualifier" for AL but a "screener."

Head of AL, Bob Vaughan, said that the distribution in the city mirrors nationwide and that there aren't that many southend students scoring that high.  He said that those who do, their families do get contacted (and they use interpreters if necessary).

Martin-Morris seemed, well, to nearly blow a gasket and said his blood pressure had now gone up.  He said he couldn't accept that there were so many "smart" kids in the northend and that there are not "bunches" of smart kids in the south end.

He's right, of course.  What he is failing to understand is that there are many factors to not finding those "bunches." One is MAP.  It's a computer-directed test.  It might be possible that more students in the south-end, particularly kindergarteners, might not have as high use of computers as do some north-end students.  Two, it may be the wrong test.

Shauna Health said that they need to look at a "nonverbal" test.  She also said that some districts don't evaluate until second grade and use the COGAT test for all second graders (rather than the district using MAP).

Patu said that parents don't know how to access the testing.  I'm not sure that's entirely true but maybe better outreach could help. 

DeBell said "well we are only talking about 2% of our students and the other 98% are still waiting."  That would seem to imply that he believes that AL students are getting their needs met and the majority of students are not.  I will try to ask him about this.

He also started saying that there is not enough time in the school day to meet many goals (like arts).  As I previously reported, there is talk of extending the day by a half-hour but that's also subject to labor negotiations.

He then said something kind of odd - He said it reminded him of our master facilities planning.  "We had to measure every building and now we have to measure where things are and aren't."  

This is the kind of thing that makes me go all Homer Simpson and saying, "Doh!"  It constantly sound like the district needs to reinvent the wheel.  They don't know where things are, why we are not compliant with the RCW around PE, how kids get access to arts, etc.  Very discouraging.

What then came was a philosophical "cards on the table" discussion.

Martin-Morris said that "we need to go back to basics."  He said the focus should be on basic education - how we define and compliance.  He said the foundational pieces should be in place before we do other things.  He said, "we may have to say no to some things until the foundation is solid."

Carr said the past is an influence.  She said they can't be afford of change and that they need to ensure money that is allocated for certain things doesn't get changed because of site-based management.   She also said they may have to look at another model for APP.

She also said it wasn't clear to her how program placement and the SAP will work.

President Smith-Blum said there are concerns around popular and successful programs.  She said that they are getting good results with ELL students and immersion programs.  She also said that they need to define "21st Century skills" like explaining a concept in another language.

DeBell said there had been 18 years of site-based management (really?) with five years of a strategic plan that was centrally-based.  He said they never got all the basics into place.  One fundamental mistake was never ensuring that we had a solid academic foundation at every school.  He also said that "program placement is as much art as science." 

Pegi McEvoy said that in terms of replicating successful programs and with new boundaries coming, they may have to consider some schools as option schools, not neighborhood schools.

Bob Boesche called for an "Assurances 2020" plan.  He said that people ask him where they should move in Seattle for good schools and he wants to say "anywhere" because we can provide the academic assurances.

Carr said that defining authority is important because "if people are not clear on authority, the system won't be high-functioning and we will trip over each other."

 Frankly, very worrying.  I'm not sure this is the best framework and it certainly doesn't seem clear which priorities are the most important (to either staff or the Board).

There seems to be a divide on the Board about how to direct the Superintendent on what staff should concentrate on given needs and resources.

I think some on the Board have big ideas and hopes for new/exciting things for the district but I don't know.  I said back when Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was here that really, the district just doesn't need a lot of new things coming at them.  They need to get the foundation and the basics right - for all programs - before taking on more.


Anonymous said…
Special Education
Once again (and this is becoming a pattern), Director DeBell seemed to be complaining about the costs. Is he blaming Seattle for being a big district with services that attract more students? Is he saying the district doesn't deliver services in a cost-effective way? I just don't know.

Debell absolutely should be looking a delivering services in an efficient way - but he never once has done that. What did he say about ICS when that boon-doggle was floated? Nary a peep. Or a meaningful one.

OSPI reports that SPS has a 14.4% special ed rate for 2012-13. Signficantly more than it is funded for at 12.7%. Let's think about that for a moment.

Yes, it is a pattern with DeBell. What he doesn't seem to realize that when you cut lots of other resources - special ed is the service of last resort that can not simply be cut because it is a federal mandate, and the most expensive one. When that becomes the main course for many students, it will be an expensive day for any public school district.

When you cut counseling and/or mental health sevices - students who have those needs WILL wind up in the most expensive place of all - self-contained EBD programs (emotionally or behaviorally disordered) programs. When you use special educators to teach general education students without disabilities(like they do at Ballard High School and other schools) - you wind up using really expensive resources to teach students WITHOUT disabilities. Eg. Students who could have survived a cheaper resource room now being assigned to the "SM4" programs that are available only at MAXIMAL cost. When 30% of Native Americans are in "special ed" - you are essentially using special education resources, the most expensive ones of all, to teach students who really are not disabled. Does anybody really believe that being Native American is a disability? Is it any surprise that there are so many students in special ed when special ed is used for all these things?

When we have a culture that favors self-contained environments, and/or segregated learning environments you WILL drive up costs. So long as general educators are allowed to opt out of teaching students with disaiblities. That is, general educators teach without FULL engagement on the task - those students with disabilities (and some without) will wind up costing the district MAXIMALLY.

I have a student with a disability. The amount of special education my child needs is directly proportional to the willingness of the general education teachers to own that education. If they are not willing to own it - then it costs the districts in special education. It is simple.

What Debell doesn't seem to realize - when you rob Peter to pay Paul... you wind up paying lots and lots for both Peter and Paul and everything in between. The focus should be on service and efficiency. Plain and simple. When you focus on other things - like stealing from special ed, or ways to cheat students of services they need, you just wind up paying more and more and more - for less and less.

Parent, those are some good insights, thanks.
Anonymous said…
@ parent re "I have a student with a disability. The amount of special education my child needs is directly proportional to the willingness of the general education teachers to own that education. If they are not willing to own it - then it costs the districts in special education. It is simple."

Well said. Thank you. I think you have spoken for many families of students with disabilities.

Another parent
Anonymous said…
It's interesting that the issue becomes identification (for highly capable), rather than a questioning of what's missing from the academics. When we supplemented the district's math curriculum at home, our children's math performance improved. We made sure our kids were getting the basics at home. We taught the basic algorithms for math operations. We taught them formulas. We simply taught.

The district needs to do a better job of delivering the basics (which includes not just math and reading/writing, but social studies, art and science).

Seattle parent
mirmac1 said…
March OSPI reports show SpEd enrollment at 12.97% or 13.1% (Report 1220 and FTE headcount, respectively).
Anonymous said…
+1 Parent! I'm discovering it gets worse after ES.
C & I needs serious attention. I don't know if the district lacks the capable personnel or just has too many things going on, but the the neglect shows and contributes to the gap because you rely on parents to make up the difference. Those families than can, kids do well, the ones who can't, kids don't.

As to focusing on advanced learner ID, using MAP is a poor screener. I've proctored these tests in the ES. The kids who do well have teachers in 3rd-5th grade teaching/reviewing literary devices such as: allegory, simile, metaphor, onomtopoeia, etc. before MAP. If you are in a school with high ELL kids, are teachers covering this material? What happens to dyslexic kids? Kids read Shakespearian sonnets (nothing wrong with that, but does SPS C & I requires this for 4th graders or 6th graders? How much classical texts with more arcane language do kids get at school?). The MAP math is different from EDM. If you use more traditional text at home and introduce some pre-algebra and concepts such as commutative and distributive properties, kids will do better (at the school I proctored, the parents in the know realized this and if they don't supplement already, they do now for APP). Again does SPS send a letter home (in different languages) for parents to do this at home with their kids?

mirmac1 said…
What is concerning is Banda's has elected to go off in every direction. We have no less than FOUR district-wide initiatives at once here:

Equity Access

How many millions will this cost? And how much will it take away from providing: staff at the building level actually doing the teaching; decent curricular materials; technology; and an extended day?
Anonymous said…
Wow, this makes me really nervous. Currently neither of my children are struggling. Their scores have been going down some, but we aren't supposed to really care about those, right? They are doing ok, though I have been a little disappointed that as they get older the curriculum seems to slow more and more down as the teacher has to focus on the struggling kids, and for whatever reason schools don't separate out children by ability anymore except for APP. So they haven't learned anything new in a couple years. I can see when I go into the classroom why- no matter how capable the teacher(and they have been fortunate enough to have some incredible teachers) they are just never going to have time for them with these class sizes, without aides, without some time and direction for kids who are just doing ok. The teachers have to focus on the struggling kids. I get that; they need the most help and resources. They can't have less than they have now. For my kids to get any teaching, the overall resources would need to go up. But, silly me, I had also hoped for an education for my own children in the public system. Not a Cadillac, just some math. Maybe some writing tips. There are plenty of other bright kids in their classes; they just aren't learning anything either. I see what you all have been saying- the floor becomes a ceiling. Shouldn't we pay some attention to those kids who seem to get it quickly? Not nearly as much as the struggling kids, but some? So they know how to learn stuff at school? Honestly at this point it seems like APP is all we have to offer, but the powers that be seem to want to take it down, too. I wish they wouldn't. I am starting to regret leaving my kids in the neighborhood school all this time, though I don't know if we could have taken the turmoil and name calling around advanced learning, either.

I had hoped this was a capacity problem that would get better, but it seems to me that the district is saying they no longer intend to educate kids like mine at all, think if anything they need to do less for them. We have kept them out of APP/spectrum until now because of the instability of the program, which doesn't seem to be improving, plus as far as I can tell it has the same huge class sizes plus some extra problems neighborhood schools don't have. Anybody tried out Shoreline? Does it have the same problems?

Sorry I'm low on solutions today. But it seems to me the district is making up extra problems. I'm going to go read about that Yakima teacher to make myself feel better.

-northward bound
Anonymous said…
@Northwest Bound, since you are already on this blog, then you are a step ahead. Sounds like you live North of downtown to be looking at Shoreline. You won't get into Shoreline advanced learning unless you live in Shoreline, ok for regular program. Shoreline has a highly capapble program and it's more spectrum at only 2 elemetary schools. Beyond elementary, kids take honors and/or AP classes.

If your kids are in ES now and your school doesn't do differentiation with walk to math and/or reading, then that's tough and you'll have to supplement at home like many parents do. Good news, once your kids make it to the northend MS and HS, at least they'll have opportunities to sign up for honors and more advanced classwork provided they meet the prereqs. As to APP/spectrum, the trick is to quaify them in the early grades as it's generally far easier to test in. If they are older, then you'll need to work with them more at home, especially if they are weaker in one area such as strong in math, but weaker in verbal or vice versa. There are kids who don't meet APP or even spectrum because of this. You don't need expensive prep services. You can download worksheets, go to Khan Academey for free. Good Luck and don't give up.
Anonymous said…
Thanks baffled. We do live pretty close to Shoreline. I just read this and have to admit I slumped. One qualified for APP, one spectrum(we don't have Spectrum at our school). I think we should have sent the APP qualifying one to APP, but we didn't want to sign up for a program that was going to be obliterated the next year, and every year it sounds like it's just about to go away or get split up again. And there are plenty of other capable kids in their classes, but the teacher can't do much for them. They have to focus on the kids who aren't getting it yet.

I know I can supplement, and probably should, but I am pretty resentful that the public schools don't think it's their job to teach them new things and wants to make it less their job. I don't want them to be first in line for the teacher's attention, and I'm a-ok with them being bored sometimes, but this new strategic plan seems beyond the pale, and makes me think I should really be seeking out a system that does mean to do something for them. I worry we are going to become one of those cities where if you have any money you have to send your kids to private school to get a good education(like much of LA) if we don't focus on educating every kid, even the doing-fine ones, not just closing the gap and having all these initiatives (I agree, mirmac, just put more teachers in buildings!).

Thanks for responding in a kind way. I'll go look up Khan academy and start making a curriculum now (geez, who knew signing up for SPS was going to entail me becoming a curriculum expert).

Northward bound
mirmac1 said…
The State Supreme Court required the Legislature to define a “basic program of education,” and sufficiently and amply fund it.

The Legislature now defines “basic education” as the following programs:
 General Apportionment (RCW 28A.150.260
 Special Education (RCW 28A.150.370)
 Transportation (RCW28A.160.150)
 Learning Assistance Program (RCW 28.A.165)
 Bilingual (RCW 28A.180)
 Institutions (RCW 28A,190)
 Highly Capable Program
 Full-Day Kindergarten

So "basic education", that does not mean minimal education.
Anonymous said…
Northward Bound - It's not too late to enroll in Spectrum or APP. You might be on a waitlist, but it's still possible to make the choice, provided there's room. Keep in mind that the curriculum is still pretty much the same, just accelerated. Being in Spectrum or APP is not a panacea, and elementary Spectrum may have little meaning at some schools.

For math, I'd suggest a trip to Math-n-stuff in Roosevelt. They can suggest some workbooks for whatever age or level your child may be.

Anonymous said…
Northward Bound - I wouldn't write off APP and would suggest you check it out next year. I think it's unlikely that the District will disband it if for no other reason than that there isn't room to return all the APP kids back to their local schools.

I am concerned that the District seems more concerned make sure some minimum standard is achieved than in making sure that all kids can achieve their highest potential. As an earlier commenter put it "the floor becomes the ceiling." The race to make everything equal seems to be a race to make everything mediocre.

Jon said…
It often does seem like the district administration thinks there are two equally reasonable ways of addressing the achievement gap: (1) helping the kids who are doing poorly or (2) hurting the kids who are doing well. After all, any school or program that is working well in this district seems to come under attack. Equally mediocre indeed.

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