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Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Open Thread

The big news is about the decision of President Smith-Blum to step down.  I wish her all the best and will miss her steady leadership.  I await the end of the day to see who is filing to run.

Unbelievably the Board put off voting on the 2013-2014 calendar.  According to the district website:

Board members had questions about state waivers for Professional Development Days and more research is being conducted. A School Board meeting to vote on the calendar will be determined at a later date. The Representative Assembly of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) approved the tentative 2013-14 calendar at its meeting on May 13.

I have heard from enough parents to know this is a tough call the Board makes for parents who continue waiting.

Friday funny - kids' notes about their parents. 

What's on your mind?

42 comments:

SMS said...

Whitman Middle School announced on Tuesday to a small meeting about "changes to the 7th and 8th grade LA/SS classes for next year" that it would be getting rid of Spectrum classes for 7th and 8th grades and doing differentiated instruction instead.

There was no other upfront communication about this change from Whitman or Seattle Public Schools until May 14th. They announced that they tried differentiated instruction in one classroom and are saying it will work fine based on that. I'm really skeptical that they can plan this change in the remaining one month of school and provide a meaningful, thoughtful program with "differentiated education" by next school year.

Later I talked to another Whitman parent who said she heard months ago that this change was going to happen. But she didn't hear it from Whitman Communications or from Seattle Public Schools, she heard it as a rumor from a parent who had talked to a teacher. This rumor was heard as early as February 2013.

Why did they wait so long to communicate about this - If they think it's a great program and the way to go, they should be shouting it from the rooftops. The fact that it was started as a rumor leads me to think they are not sure at all that this will work. Also that they have not planned it well enough to be ready to roll this out in the fall.

It's a very unprofessional way to run a school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

SMS, agreed.

I think the district needs to be called out on this publicly.

Anonymous said...

And of course, had Whitman announced in February that they would implement this change, there would be comments on threads like these complaining about that decision and timeline instead.

How about more constructive criticism rather than, "Bad, bad, bad, bad!"

What timeline would you have liked to see? Simply announcing the impending change in February would have changed little else other than the focus of the complaints that they're guaranteed to receive.

--Consider The Alternative

Wild West said...

What does the Executive Director have to say about the change?

There are simply too many instances of individual schools setting their own policies and forging their own way. Is this ok'd by district administration?

Anonymous said...

Similar to math where kids can be placed in different math classes, I think middle schools should have honors language arts and social studies. I have a friend whose son goes to Whitman. He was in Spectrum in elementary school - but there were too many spectrum kids and not enough spectrum spots at Whitman when he started last year. So he didn't get a spectrum spot. Unfortunately for my friend's son, his strengths are in language arts and social studies (not math). He would have really benefitted from an honors (or some type of advanced level) of language arts/social studies.

And I think the term "differentiation" is being totally misused by the District. My understanding of the term "differentiation" is that it's supposed to mean adjusting your teaching style to reach kids who are visual learners, auditory learners, kinesthetic learners, etc. It doesn't mean trying to teach kids who are below grade level, at grade level, and above grade level all in the same class.

My ideal world would be to offer language arts and social studies classes in middle school that are above grade level (as well as classes that are at grade level). Let any kid who can demonstrate they can do the work opt into the honors class if they want to.


Jane

Anonymous said...

Consider The Alternative-

Really??!?? I love that you're making it sound like the parents are whiners instead of what it really is - the district highlighting again how terrible they are at dealing with the public.

A school should be allowed to quietly make a dramatic change in May, after people are no longer able to make a change of schools? I am not at Whitman, but I would be furious. This is bait and switch.

What should they have done? How about community meetings to announce the change prior to open enrollment ending? How about explaining exactly what changes they will make to ensure that the transition will go smoothly? What about the advanced learning department talking about how they are going to oversee the transition so that changes are implemented as promised? They didn't do these things because there will be no oversight.

That people think the district making changes like this is just hunky dory shows how common this is in the district.

-pickle

dw said...

What timeline would you have liked to see? Simply announcing the impending change in February would have changed little else other than the focus of the complaints that they're guaranteed to receive.

At the very least, structural changes to programs need to be crystal clear before enrollment. Changing programs willy-nilly should never, ever, ever be allowed after open enrollment. Hasn't the district learned their lesson on this yet??

How about more constructive criticism rather than, "Bad, bad, bad, bad!"

To the bigger point, "bad, bad, bad, bad" is probably the most appropriate description you could have come up with, because that describes this move.

Spectrum is being systematically killed around the district. Regardless of whatever bullshit building staff is telling parents, the so-called clustering (which in some cases is actually the opposite: dispersing across all classrooms), does not work as well for all kids. It's neutral or worse for the kids, top to bottom, read the research. And for the few teachers that bother to attempt to reach all kids, it's most definitely more work.

This misguided move sacrifices academics for conveniences of classroom arrangements. Administrators make their life easier, while making it harder for teachers and wreaking things for the kids.

So many excuses and promises that are never kept. They'll never do any kind of real analysis for ALL kids to see if outcomes are diminished. Some parents will quietly move their kids to APP or other schools. The whole thing stinks, and Bob Vaughan is MIA again. How can buildings be allowed to do this??

Anonymous said...

RE: The school calendar.

I don't understand what the uproar is? Everybody knows school starts after Labor Day, ends the Friday before Christmas and starts back after the new year.

OK, so mid-winter break is a question.

And are that many families trying to book spring break vacations right now? I know I am just trying to figure out July and August.

We all know when we can/cannot be on vacation during the school year and if you are planning to still be on vacation on Sept 5th, there is a good chance your kid will be missing the first days of school.

Maybe is it childcare people are concerned about? But how far out do you plan for that?

I would think the bell schedule and bus transportation would be a bigger issues for families right now.

Chill-lax


Anonymous said...

Is there any way to find out what your school's MAP scores are? I'm curiious how our math program is working and interested in seeing the growth in scores vs. growth norms.

SPS mom

tk said...

re: Calendar also
Agreed chill-lax, but parents are not aware of the bigger issues here- the district smugly assumes every year that their Waiver to the State Board of Education (SBE) will be approved for the 3 full days off for professional development, but this year accountability bit back & the waiver was denied!

Go to the 5/15 Board video, part 2 (126 min-134, then 148-154) and you will hear our district top honchos & SEA union rep all in denial.

The SBE met & refused the waiver on May 8th and still the SEA (union) voted on the calendar including the waiver days on May 13th and the SPS admin submitted the Board Action Report for the May 15th Board Meeting with NO word about the SBE's denial!

Several of the Board members even knew about the denial (Martin Morris, De Bell & Carr all mentioned this in their comments) and yet they also let this come to the Board for an Intro & Action vote all in the same night ("Intro & Action at the same meeting is in the best interest of the district" it was announced).

How can this happen? Appalling incompetence all the way, and yet the worry at the district level was more focused on having a calendar for parents to count on, rather the implications of the 3-day waiver denial. The district always says in their application that if they don't get the waiver, they will have to add six or MORE half-day early releases for PD instead (the district already has 5 early releases in addition to the 3-full days, and some schools have 20 or more additional site-based PD late arrival/early releases)!

Enough of this- when will our kids be with their teachers in the classroom?

Anonymous said...

Whitman, to this day, except as a side note in the meeting on Tuesday, has not expressed a change to the Spectrum program at all. They didn't publicly indicated before the meeting that there was a change to Spectrum that was going to be discussed. In the meeting, they focused on the language arts curriculum and how great it works with differentiation (and, oh, by the way, we are going to scatter the Spectrum kids around in all the classrooms because we don't have multiples of 32 kids for the spectrum classes). And there has been no communication to the Spectrum families since. For parents who didn't make the meeting, they may not even know.

My son's teacher has let the students know that things are changing next year and indicated that they are all going to have to work really hard to keep their "advanced" status, like it's some sort of competition.

I don't even think SPS necessarily knows that there are changes at Whitman. I have gotten the impression that the decision was made solely at the school level.

I have always thought that honors classes made the most sense at middle school, and it sounds like many others do as well. Differentiation will probably work for a small handful of teachers. Everyone else will be left with a mediocre education with no advanced learning provided.

-blindsided

Anonymous said...

Later I talked to another Whitman parent who said she heard months ago that this change was going to happen. But she didn't hear it from Whitman Communications or from Seattle Public Schools, she heard it as a rumor from a parent who had talked to a teacher. This rumor was heard as early as February 2013.

Why did they wait so long to communicate about this - If they think it's a great program and the way to go, they should be shouting it from the rooftops. The fact that it was started as a rumor leads me to think they are not sure at all that this will work. Also that they have not planned it well enough to be ready to roll this out in the fall.

It's a very unprofessional way to run a school.


Deja vu. This is just the way it happened at Lawton. It was intentionally kept secret, I would guess to keep parents from interfering with the decision, and the then principal, after inadvertently disclosing it to a parent, refused to even talk to individual parents about it. Instead, they were supposed to make their feelings known in a meeting, which was designed by the principal to be 1 hour long, 1/2 hour of which was devoted to the staff reading a prepared statement, one line at a time. The second half hour parents were given a discussion topic and told to discuss at their tables and have one table person report out after 10 minutes on a question about what they loved about the change.

They fractured the community and the principal ended up demoted.

Yes, a very unprofessional way to manage change.

deja vu all over again

Anonymous said...

As a parent at Whitman with a student in one of the "differentiated" classes, I can tell you it has been a year with very mixed results. So many kids are not even up to standards, both behaviorally and education-wise, and that teacher has had a difficult job. This is made somewhat more challenging by the fact that the "spectrum" LA/SS teacher is not one that I would choose for my child.

Kind of a no-win situation here.

signed,

Glad to be getting out

Anonymous said...

@ glad to be getting out,
Of course, that very same teacher stood in front of us all on Tuesday telling us what a huge success it was and ALL of the kids in his class made such big gains in learning. I felt like we should all start singing Kumbaya. Can you give more details on what the class was like for your student? How was your student graded and were the expectations different? Do you feel the advanced students were given the same amount of time as the other students? Was the advanced curriculum appropriate?

- blindsided

Anonymous said...

@blindsided - there was no advanced curriculum. The advanced students just had to read more. Grading was not differentiated, as far as I can tell. I don't have a problem with ending separate classes for spectrum/non-spectrum. I just think its difficult. Had I to do it over again, I would keep my student in the class anyhow, because of the other teacher.

It's also interesting, that I didn't even know this change was coming, and that I did not know there was a meeting.

-Glad to be getting out

Good Bye said...

The misinformation, pain, confusion and ill will created by this blog is breathtaking.

Good bye.

Anonymous said...

Like many others here, I think honors courses in Language Arts and Social Studies are a better way to go for middle school than Spectrum. It's too bad that this option doesn't seem to be on the table at Whitman.

--A 3rd Way

Chris S. said...

Good Bye,

The utter lack of information from all levels of our public education institution is what created and what feeds this blog. Don't blame the messenger, and don't let the door hit your backside on the way out.

Anonymous said...

Jerry here,
The whole beef here is ability grouping, isn't it?
In my day, the 60's and 70's, there was no ability grouping. High ability kids just didn't have to study much and needed to find ways to pass the hours in class. Now we have some ability grouping, but it really touches a nerve in many people and is always in a state of expansion or contraction. We have APP growing now and Spectrum shrinking. It's a game of balancing interests of various groups, teachers often don't like the often unfair workload in the low ability classrooms, the range is much wider than in the high classes, that is just a fact. The issue of Sped kids or ELL also plays in, are they de facto excluded from the high ability classrooms?
The problems are real and complicated. Nobody wants kids not working to potential, but how is that made compatible with inclusiveness and fairness to other students andr teachers?
Obviously the district is muddling through this problem and letting individual schools try different approaches.
One wonders what the overall data shows for kids under differing regimens. My understanding is that AL has lots of numbers and lots of stats. I would like an open And honest discussion or at least a presentation of how the kids, in aggregate, are doing under the various models, APP, Spectrum self-contained, Spectrum clustered, honors(MS), ALO.
Surely there is some data floating around at HQ,hopefully it could be released and its use informing depictions explained.

Data Driven

Melissa Westbrook said...

Consider the Alternative, the constructive criticism would be this:

- create a coherent AL program
- involve parents in its creation
- and tell parents about changes BEFORE enrollment

Sorry, but Whitman Spectrum parents DO have a right to be upset.

Data Driven, yes, really data and action and a plan based on it would be nice.

Enough of this, thank you for all that detail.

Anonymous said...

Whitman Spectrum Enrollment (from the SPS web-site)

2012:
6th = 79, 7th = 77, 8th = 82

Projected for 2013:
6th = 88, 7th = 79, 8th = 77

Not sure how Whitman is claiming that there isn't room in the Spectrum classes ... looks like there is room for all + teacher placements.

Called Whitman yesterday, the very nice lady on the phone said they were moving to clustering "to create advanced learning opportunities for all the students, not just Spectrum".

NW family

Anonymous said...

Is it possible they want to get rid of ability grouping, and then justify it by saying it's about the budget, when in reality it's just about getting rid of ability grouping? Isn't this what was attempted at Eckstein a few years back, but ended up getting squashed, though they were more transparent about the reason?

Honors classes would be a solution to the lack of a guaranteed middle school seat in Spectrum - yet there is clearly a faction against any kind of ability grouping. Dispersing students among classrooms is not "clustering."

When the staff introduced their revised policy for highly capable, KSB called out the district for not having a plan for AL services. Let's hope she continues pushing for a clearly defined offering of services prior to her departure from the Board. This is craziness.

gahhh

Anonymous said...

I agree that I think they just want to get rid of ability grouping. I heard a comment from the principal at Whitman about getting rid of the perception of the "have and the have-nots".

If they used the honors model and kids could self select into it, why would anyone care?

- wondering

Melissa Westbrook said...

One thing to remember is that over at Wedgwood they moved to "cluster grouping" and even brought in an expert to explain it. I thought it a good idea (if that's the way they felt they had to go) BUT she then explained that her method was not the one being used at Wedgwood.

We have a power vacuum in AL and, because no one in senior leadership cares about AL, it is quite easy for principals to chart their own course (and not necessarily based on what is best for students).

mirmac1 said...

Can we have a Whitman thread and leave the Open Thread open?

Anonymous said...

It's incredibly disappointing that Whitman chose to go about dismantling Spectrum with minimal communication.

I'm tired of Spectrum beaten up in this district. Clearly the principal at Whittier is no fan either. We need to remember that a lot of those kids have the numbers for APP and choose to stay at their neighborhood school -- and thus don't contribute to the crowding there, just like a lot of kids have the numbers for Spectrum and elect to stay at their reference school.

Put me in the camp of those who believe it's neither realistic nor fair to expect each and every teacher to be good at slicing and dicing it 28 ways for each student in their class (i.e., an ALO model of differentiation for everyone), while also covering all the requirements like common core and testing to grade level, etc, etc. I suspect more kids will get lost in the shuffle in that scenario.

Spectrum elementary parent

Anonymous said...

An answer to a question in an old thread:

RE: question about primary vs. intermediate MAP test -

I just looked at the strand information for my daughter's scores and the strand titles (what each strand is measuring) are different. All her K-Fall of 2nd grade strands are the same and her W and SP 2nd grade strands in both reading and math have changed. This leads me to believe her school gave the 2nd graders the intermediate test beginning in winter. Don't know for sure.

She went up slightly in reading with the switch (which has shown the steady rise you'd expect), and went up more dramatically with the math, but her scores in math have been more up and down, so less informative.

~JA Mom

Proud Wildcat said...

My advanced learner will be headed to Whitman next year. He is ALO designated, but is looking more like APP.

The principal of Whitman is a caring and experienced individual that passionately cares for the children she serves. Similarily, there are many wonderful and dedicated teachers that work extremely hard in difficult situations.

ALO designation happens very early. This early designation locks many capable students out of advanced learning opportunities. This is unfortunate. For the sake of our society, it is essential to challenge every student.

I've had one child graduate from Whitman. Students in gen. ed. classes have successfully moved on to very challenging high school programs.

The school has been working very hard to meet the needs of children, and I have confidence in the teachers, principal and community. I support the school's decision and feel my child will be fine.

Lack of communication was unfortunate, but there are no changes to the 6th grade class.

Anonymous said...

Wildcat - I don't quite understand your statement that "ALO designation happens very early. This early designation locks many capable students out of advanced learning opportunities."

Just because a child has received one designation early on doesn't mean they can't be re-tested later on to see if they are now qualified. I know kids who didn't qualify for APP in 1st or 2nd grade - but qualified in 5th and 6th grades.

Jane

Benjamin Leis said...

@Proud WildCat

Designation for ALO's or Spectrum etc. can happen at any year although slots may or may not be available. So I don't entirely follow your ideas about locking out other students from opportunities.

I'm generally all for raising the rigor / challenging every student. I also don't particularly love the rigidity of the district's definition of advanced learning where kids who are strong in only one area don't get officially recognized.

My concern here is whether the implementation of the change will increase access or just generally lower rigor.

By Middle school, differentiated learning like Reader's workshop seems strained to me. Theoretically you want students reading the same material and thus being exposed to a wide range of important literature, engaging in discussions about it, and practicing writing essays. If that's whats going to occur and just more widely: great.
Otherwise, it does seem very poorly executed and with no over sight.

Ben

Anonymous said...

Wildcat said: "Students in gen. ed. classes have successfully moved on to very challenging high school programs. "

I am troubled by this sentence and I think it highlights why there is such animosity towards AL in Seattle as a whole. Why is there this notion that if a kid is in gen ed that they are less likely to succeed than anyone else? It's almost as though many think that being in gen ed means that you have a higher hill to climb to succeed than those in an advanced learning program. It should not be considered negative or bad to be in gen ed.

Being in gen ed is not an anchor around a kid's ankle. So much determines success, and it is far more than what program you are in. The vast majority of adults in this country came through gen ed.

I strongly believe that we need different types of programs for different types of kids. Kids shouldn't be sitting bored in a class because it is perceived as "equal." I don't believe that honors classes will work in Seattle with the animosity towards AL that we currently have. Why will parents stop complaining about "unfairness" and "elitism" if it's called honors rather than Spectrum, ALO or APP?

-pickle

Not making friends said...

Glad to be getting out - I am curious if this is the same 8th grade LA/SS class my son is in. My student is not spectrum, and I have not been happy with the apparent lack of instruction and learning that has happened in the class. Nothing has been updated on the Source since late March. Very little homework besides a few writing projects.

I don't think there should be separate spectrum classes. I think it is appropriate for APP students who are truly gifted. But, I don't consider Spectrum kids to be gifted. Just smart and good students is all. They can deal with being with the masses.

Anonymous said...

Ummm pickle, who is calling honors classes elitism or unfairness? No one has said anything about "if a kid is in gen ed that they are less likely to succeed than anyone else."

confused




Anonymous said...

I should add, no one beside you pickle.

confused

Anonymous said...

Confused-

You don't read this blog much.

This is the quote I was referring to (which was also in my original post): "Students in gen. ed. classes have successfully moved on to very challenging high school programs. "

What is this writer implying? It sounds to me like they are saying that no one should be surprised that gen ed kids go to "very challenging high school programs" because that is what they said. Why would anyone be surprised about that? Again, most adults in this country came out of a general ed program.

As far as who is calling advanced programs unfair, you can look to any number of the recent threads on Advanced Learning.

-pickle

Anonymous said...

Pickle asks, "Why will parents stop complaining about 'unfairness' and 'elitism' if it's called honors rather than Spectrum, ALO or APP?"

Because honors classes are by definition less exclusive, not being based on test scores alone, but on a student's desire to work hard and take on additional challenge. It opens more rigorous curriculum up to kids who are strong in a single subject (since they to test high in both math and reading to be in Spectrum). Self-selection (and teacher recommendation) for honors classes works in high schools. I can't see how they could possibly be considered unfair or elite.

-- Another Perspective

Anonymous said...

MAP testing at Nathan Hale:

I had opted out my child for the earlier testing but allowed my child to decide whether to take the spring test or not. My child chose to take the MAP test in Math because she was told it would help with figuring out the areas needing work for the End of Course exams.

Nathan Hale has chosen not to administer the MAP test for Reading unless the student has shown the need to be helped in that area, so only the struggling readers were MAP tested for reading. Students at level or above were not tested in the spring. I thought that was an interesting use of the test. Hopefully it will not have a negative effect on the teachers or the school.

HP

Anonymous said...

Seattle dodged a bullet with Carla Santorno leaving. She is now Super in Tacoma and she is placing ALL of the cuts on Career and Technical Ed programs (you know, those hands on programs for students that learn better, well, hands on...).

http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/05/12/2594058/tacoma-career-tech-teachers-face.html

Only now is Seattle starting to develop good Skills Center programs so that all students can be served, but most Super's seem to think ALL kids going to college better pads their resumes.

...CTE Fan...

Melissa Westbrook said...

"But, I don't consider Spectrum kids to be gifted."

Here's the thing to consider - it doesn't really matter what ANY of us think gifted it. It matters as to what the district thinks and how they support those students.

And that seems to be an ever-changing thing from school-to-school.

As for honors classes being "elitist", yes, I have heard that said here and at my sons' high/middle schools. Even if you don't have Spectrum, if you have honors class that have any kind of gatekeeping, that charge will get put out there.

If the honors classes WERE open to all who wanted more rigor, yes, I doubt that charge would be leveled. But most honors classes in the past have had gatekeeping. (And I would expect that the teachers would be allow to exit a student who couldn't keep up. The point is not to slow the class down but speed it up.)

Again, it remains to be seen what the district does or does not do.

Spruiter said...

I really like the idea of opt-in honors classes at middle school. In theory, if a student wants to do the work, they can have more challenge. In practice, there might need to be some gate keeping with scores if the numbers of kids who opt in don't add up to right-sized classes. Depending on the actual numbers you get, you might have to keep out some kids who want in, or try to encourage some kids to opt in to make the numbers balance. With capacity what it is in many schools right now, those numbers really need to be balanced. So it's tricky and I think there is a lot of gray area, which makes the communication challenging. You need an administrator who is comfortable saying (before open enrollment) - "we're going to try X, but it will depend on Y and Z - we'll do the best we can once we see the actual numbers", and a parent community who has enough trust in their administration to accept that.

Anonymous said...

Opt-in honors is fine and I support it. However, the definition of what constitutes an "honors" class is tricky. You may know what it is when you see it, but like anything it "honors" means different things to different people. Pre-A.P or pre-I.B. may be a better way to think about this at the middle school level. What are the skills an entering Freshman will need to succeed in college prep courses such as A.P. and I.B. The goal then should be to offer a menu of those "pre" courses to anyone who want the challenge at middle school. It is doable without all the politics of calling it honors or Spectrum or APP. It still sorts students but a kid can opt-in or opt-out.

MC

Anonymous said...

You need an administrator who is comfortable saying (before open enrollment) - "we're going to try X, but it will depend on Y and Z - we'll do the best we can once we see the actual numbers", and a parent community who has enough trust in their administration to accept that.

These decisions should not be left to individual schools. You are left with no consistency year to year, or principal to principal. If delivery of Spectrum level services is changing, then it shouldn't be some experiment. It should be adopted by the district as a whole, for the right reasons, and not done willy nilly as a short term way to deal with student numbers.

A move to honors classes is not how the change for Whitman Spectrum is being described. If honors classes would serve Spectrum level students, then great, but I don't think that's what's happening. It sounds like they are doing the exact opposite and eliminating any kind of leveled classes.

weighing in