What is the deal with Spectrum?
Thirteen years ago, when I first became an activist in Seattle Public Schools, there were problems with Spectrum. There were three problems:
- Qualified students could not gain access to the program because the classes were full.
- There was lively discussion about the student identification process including issues of under-representation of minority students and students from low-income homes.
- There were significant inconsistencies within the program from school to school and no clear definition of the program.
Here we are, thirteen years later, and all of the problems are still the same. There has been only minimal progress made on any of these issues.
There are waitlists for Spectrum at Wedgwood and View Ridge while the folks at Wedgwood claim that they had to dissolve their Spectrum classes because they couldn't get enough students for them. I have a hard time reconciling these statements.
There are waitlists for Spectrum at many middle schools as well. On the good side, the District says that any Spectrum-eligible student is assured of a Spectrum seat at their attendance area school, so I can only conclude that all of the students on middle school Spectrum waitlists are out-of-area students. The District needs to provide some transparency around their Spectrum enrollment and assignment practice. Right now there is none. No seats are set-aside for Spectrum-eligible students in the designated Spectrum sites.
Under-representation continues to plague the program. While the District has invited the families of high performing students to nominate their children for the testing, the proportions haven't improved as much as we would like. There is good reason to believe that talented students are more evenly distributed across ethnicities and income levels than our Spectrum enrollment would suggest. The District needs to do a better job of finding and developing that talent.
The inconsistencies from school to school have actually worsened and when asked to define Spectrum, the Executive Director of Curriculum and Instructional Support, Shauna Heath, replied "One year ahead". This is, far and away, the most anemic description of a program that I have ever heard. Spectrum needs a defined curriculum. Moreover, that curriculum needs to extend beyond the standard curriculum in multiple dimensions. It needs to go deeper so the students have a more profound understanding of the underlying concepts. It needs to go broader so the students can see and apply the concepts in a wider range of contexts. It needs to go faster through less repetition and a compacted curriculum. And, yes, it needs to go further, with a FLOOR of one grade level advanced (as developmentally appropriate) and without a ceiling. If the program is nothing more than acceleration then it's no different from grade skipping. Some schools have strong Spectrum programs where students are challenged to perform at very high levels. Some schools have Spectrum programs in name only.
When confronted with these problems the District officials respond with delaying tactics. They claim that they are going to form two Task Forces to address the questions of Student Identification and Service Delivery Model. In April they told us that these Task Forces were their "next steps". Then they told us that they would form these Task Forces in August. I don't know why they felt it was necessary to wait four months before taking the next steps, but that's what they said. August, of course, has come and gone without any Task Forces. Now they say that they are waiting to appoint the new manager of Advanced Learning before convening the Task Forces. I don't know why the interim manager cannot do it.
Of course none of the current delaying tactics explain the thirteen years of delay that have proceeded them.
Let's be perfectly clear: All of these issues are entirely within the District's control. The District decides and completely controls the assignment practices. The District decides and completely controls the student identification practice. The District decides and controls the definition of Spectrum. The District can't point fingers at anyone else.
So what's the deal with Spectrum? Do I have this wrong?