Tacoma School District: a Case Study in Ed Reform

Our friends to the south certainly have a lot going on in their district.  I'll create a list (with outcomes):

1.  Tacoma has Lincoln High which opened in 1914. From their website:

In the last decade Lincoln High School has achieved a remarkable renaissance in teaching and school programs.  A once dormant drama department now features annual productions.  An award-winning culinary-arts program regularly bests similar programs in the region.
Starting in 2002 with a large grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. the school began to take a close look at the skills needed for teaching urban students and begin work on ways of improving instruction to meet the needs of those students.  A legacy of that work, The Lincoln Center, is a school-within-a-school that features a rigorous, college-ready curriculum and strong emphasis on character building.

The Lincoln Center referenced in the text above was created to be a school-within-a-school to give special attention and support to students at risk for not graduating.  

Students take honors and AP level courses in everything from history to math. Their extended day also includes time for clubs or sports and homework. 

Lincoln High itself appears to be very deliberately thought-out with weekly "inquiry groups" and multiple engagement strategies.  The main school has also started a longer academic day, from Monday thru Thursdays with school ending at 3:05 pm instead of 2:05 pm. (They also have a hugely successful varsity football team that is coached by a former Seahawk turned teacher, Jon Kitna.  They beat their last opponent 91-0). 

Another change is that we will no longer hold Saturday School enrichment days. Instead we will host one enrichment Friday per month with students visiting college campuses, museums and various cultural events.

However, the experiment with Lincoln Center came to an end last May (despite a 95% graduation rate - Lincoln High had a 66% graduation rate). The entire school is going to have a longer day (7:35 am- 3:15 pm) with tutoring and life skills help right in the middle of the day. 

Lincoln Center got so popular that it was too large to be a school-within-a-school.  But it wasn't just that Lincoln Center got too big -  staff was experiencing burnout because of the exceptionally long days.

So Lincoln High 2.0  is doing fairly well with all the students in one program.

2.  But there will be one charter high school right by Lincoln including a high school.  As I previously reported, the Tacoma School Board had two Charter Commission members come to their board meeting to answer some questions.  The Tacoma Board is very worried about having now three charter schools opening within their district next fall.  They wanted to know if the Charter Commission could limit the number of charters coming into a district and the answer is no; the law does not provide for that.

3. Then there is the fascinating  new story about a fight at Lincoln.  But it isn't between students.  From the Tacoma News Tribune:

The Tacoma Public Schools district plans to investigate allegations from three staff members that Lincoln High School is improperly steering students to alternative programs, denying them access to courses they need and otherwise denying underachieving students the right to a full high school education.
The district also has sued the three staff members and their attorney and is threatening the staff members with disciplinary action.

The lawsuit seeks the return of student grade reports, transcripts and class information the district says were shared with “unauthorized persons, to include the news media.” 

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/10/02/3411920/fight-over-lincoln-high-practices.html#storylink=c
The crux of the issue appears to be that the staff members are accused of releasing confidential student records to the media in order to bolster their claims that students are being pushed out of Lincoln.

The staff members contend Lincoln is “cherry-picking” the best students while sending struggling students out the door or into online classes to improve its graduation statistics.

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/10/02/3411920/fight-over-lincoln-high-practices.html#storylink=cpy

What is troubling to me - as someone who is working on student data privacy issues - is that the staff's attorney says there was "no student identifying" information.  But again, if you can gather info on students from multiple sources (and that can be done), you can likely narrow down who is who.

Release of the records without parental or student consent violates district rules and federal law, the district contends.

I find that a bit funny given that most districts give away student data without even informing parents that they are doing it.  So it's kind of like the pot calling the kettle black.

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/10/02/3411920/fight-over-lincoln-high-practices.html#storylink=cpy

Tacoma School District issued a bit of throwdown for today - the staff must come to school and answer the charges in order for the district to "decide on any disciplinary action." 

What's the upshot to all this information?

Maybe all this can be filed under the "Lessons Learned" column for SPS.   

There is good that can come from trying different ways of organizing a school.  A longer school day.  Saturday help and in school tutoring and career/college counseling all seem like good ideas.  But there are a lot of moving parts to any change.
  • The Tacoma School Board's complaints to the Charter Commission also included the rueful explanation that some of the charter applications specifically mentioned Tacoma's innovations.  Tacoma School District is then a victim of that success, making them a more attractive district to charter groups. 
  • Lincoln Center was a victim of its own success, growing too large.  So now the entire high school is following the Center model but that's a pretty heavy lift for both students and staff. 
  • Several staff were so worried that administrators at Lincoln High were pushing out less-than-achieving students that they took student records out to the public.  That's not a tenable situation for any school but when the pressure is on for outcomes and test scores, this is what can happen.



Anonymous said…
This is their opportunity to tell us anything the district needs to hear before the district makes a decision,” said Tacoma Public Schools attorney Shannon McMinimee.

So that's where one of the many ex SPS SPED attorneys landed.

OSPI pissed
Charlie Mas said…
Perhaps one of the refinements to the Charter School law would be to require that the charter schools be distributed geographically in an equitable fashion.
Charlie Mas said…
Are any of the charter schools going into areas that approved the initiative?
Charlie, that's the case that Tacoma is making but I'm not sure that provision is in any charter law. But it certainly would help rural areas that long for more choices but that's not really what charters are about.

Spokane approved 1240 so that's one place. I'd have to check the others but I don't think Tacoma did approve it.

There is some irony that districts where I-1240 was defeated are the most likely to get charters.
Josh Hayes said…
Thus it always is: the people in favor of charters are in favor of them for other people. Witness the hue and cry in New Jersey when those "inner-city" charter schools wanted to start operating in the surrounding suburbs. Yikes!

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