Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What Should Public Education Be?

From the Friday Open Thread discussion - the eternal discussion of HCC and who needs rigor and whether poverty actually does affect learning, etc, etc, and etc.

There was this comment from a reader who seems to think the rest of us are pretty shallow people:
"We can, however, get to a place where an authentic culture of enquirer, discovery and social engagement is fostered.

HCC supporters are thinking too narrowly in terms of education. It isn't a tiered, limited entity but a process built around engagement, participation and connection."
And here may be the crux of the ENTIRE question for not only HCC but for public education:
What should public education be?
What should it deliver?  What should be its goals?
I'm going to go searching at the district's webpage for all its various mission statements, strategic plans, etc. and see what they say.

I'm not sure that "social engagement" is the same as "engagement, participation and connection."  Aren't all students engaging in learning - equally good learning - if they are school or is having different programs at schools mean that isn't true? 

But parents, I'll ask you.  What about equity? Because this is VERY much both the main issue to some and a convenient shield for others (and, of course, an authentic necessity to all but there are many uses for any given cause) around equity.

How much does/should social justice issues intertwine with public education? 

 Has it always been there but been sometimes ignored or whitewashed (to use a phrase)?

Should it be the sole column to public education that all other areas radiate out from; sort of a maypole for education?

Who decides what values are the right ones to mix in with teaching and learning?  How much freedom should teachers have in teaching about social justice?

And, most of all, where do parents get to weigh in on this?  Who decides if they do have a voice?

Because we may be arguing into the wind if we don't agree on the main thing.


Anonymous said...

As an active citizen and social justice supporter with students in both HCC and not in HCC, the comments of FWIW/ForProgress/About Time make me want to barf. If he/she thinks every one of our 54,000 students should learn at the pace and in the environment that meets his/her priorities (values), with total hateful disregard for priorities of other families and cultures, then we will agree to disagree.

I do not believe this one person has any place telling families, teachers, or administrators what to value and how, especially when it is completely off base and out of line (and I would guess self serving). Until he/she provides an appropriate recommendation, He/She can go sit on the May Pole and take a spin for all I care.

Sit nSpin

Jon said...

Maybe we should prioritize a little? Less than 70% of children are at grade level in reading and math.

Anonymous said...

Children should be given an education that allows them to reach their academic potential - both challenging and do-able for their skill level.

For those of you (FWIW/ForProgress/About Time) that think that HCC students are just advanced since they are privileged, let me tell you about my daughter. She was always good at math, but I worried that the terrible math books SPS was using were actually confusing, so occasionally I would work with her on specific skills. In first grade, I sat down with her to explain multiple digit subtraction, with carrying. Although she had not covered that in school yet, she caught on within a few minutes, mastering it easily. Later, in 3rd grade, I taught her long division the standard way that most people used to do it. Again, it only took a few minutes.

HCC has many students like my daughter. Are you saying that all kids could master concepts at the same rate, if they were just given the opportunity? I would say that those unrealistic expectations would lead to academic disaster for most students. Most students, working at grade level, need to work very hard over a series of days or even weeks to master these concepts. They should be given the time and teaching necessary to master these skills. However, for a child that picks up those concepts much more quickly than normal, it's not right to make them sit around for much of their school day waiting for others to catch up, just like it wouldn't be right to leave a struggling student alone without any extra help.


Jon said...

Huh, I didn't get this was yet another discussion about HCC. In that case, sure, let's challenge everyone. Even so, I'd still say we could do well by focusing on reading and math. Those are tools required for everything else.

And we obviously aren't doing enough on reading and math given the scores. Part of that is funding, but part is getting distracted by spending lots of classroom time on whatever social engagement is supposed to be according to the latest trend coming out of education departments this year rather than teaching reading and math.

NNE Mom said...

Our reading and math achievement levels are about 10 percentage points better than the state average. But why does the worthiness of our students or teachers have anything to do with standardized achievement scores? If they all got 100% would we call it a day and go home? Good job, kids, you're done learning now?

Anonymous said...

On a related note:


Tagging onto Momof2 comments, years ago I was tutoring a middle school student in math and they had not learned multi-digit multiplication with carrying. It apparently was not part of Everyday Math (thank goodness SPS has moved on from EDM). The student was like, that's it? Why didn't they teach that? They caught on quickly and just wanted more and more problems to practice. Yeah, only a few minutes. This district sells a lot of students short, not just HC, through its poor curriculum choices (over and over and over). They chase shiny objects in hope of some easy fix, then wonder why they don't see improvement.

just ranting

David said...

The answers to this question will be varied as there are stars in the sky. Public education has to be many things to many people all at once, and it is an eternal juggling act (or tug-o'-war) trying to be responsive to often contradictory agendas.

Personally, I think public education is supposed to be a cornerstone of a democratic society. If public education is failing, we will see the symptoms of that in our democratic institutions . . . This sensibility comes from my interpretation of Thomas Jefferson's notion of public education, but - again - that will vary depending on whom you ask.

While still allowing for a wide range of notions about what public education should be, one thing that seems clear to me is that the Seattle Public Schools, institutionally, does not reflect the set of values that Seattleites share about what public education should be. The kind(s) of education Seattle parents want for their kids is largely not what our district offers us. Admittedly, many families are more or less satisfied with Seattle Public Schools, but the majority (I sense) are not. The district is responsive just enough to keep simmering annoyances from boiling over, but it stays in that reactionary mode, rarely taking proactive steps to meet our expectations, and often shutting down programs that are popular and successful (Experimental Unit, Spectrum, etc.).

There is a vocal group of advocates calling for racial equity in the district (closing the gap, HC identification, etc.). The district pretends to be responsive to these concerns, but nothing changes. I see no gaps being closed, and I see only baby steps in creating a proper HC program (where change is happening only because of capacity management, not because of a desire to meet parents' and students' needs). We voted for smaller classroom sizes, and they are bigger. We voted in a board that had vision enough to adopt Singapore Math but faced teacher resistance afterward; now the shortlisted middle school math books are underwhelming. One step forward, two steps back. That's how it works here.

The way I feel most of the time is confused, like there is a snowball fight going on over my head among the competing voices in this district, and I pull up my hood to keep from getting too wet and trying to make it through my children's education here as unscathed as possible. I never know what's going on, I never know what to do, I'm constantly wondering what game I'm supposed to be playing to get my kids the best possible public education I can. I feel like we miss out a lot of times. I suspect the vast majority of parents in this district feel something akin to what I feel.

Public education shouldn't be like this. The people running our institutions should be talking to us to find out what we want and to get ideas how to implement those things. They should be transparent; they rarely are. There should be more checks and balances, because staff often acts with impunity. Parents should have more say, more of a right to express what we want public education to be here. Right now, I'm not sure it matters what _we_ think public education should be.

Sandor said...

Seattle has a graduation rate of 78%. Nationally the average is 83%. So, some room for improvement there.

74.2% of Seattle's students go on to college. Nationally 65.9% go to college. So we're doing pretty well there.

But here's a thing: Only about 67% percent of Seattle's entering kindergarteners are "kindergarten ready" (meeting 6 out of 6 milestones set by the state). Jon pointed out above that "less than 70% of children are at grade level in reading and math" and he's right. But this gap exists even before school begins.

The public schools need to welcome and teach all of the children. At whatever level they're at. The public schools do not need to (nor could they) make all children the same. Kids don't learn the same. They don't test the same. They don't weigh the same amount. There's no ideal, perfectly average child that our schools are striving to turn all the other kids into. Every Student. Every Classroom. Every Day.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sit n Spin, dial that back and watch that language. I'm not sure anyone is being "hateful" but I do think that some comments are distainful of others' concerns for their children.

Jon, I get it. But the district's job is to educate ALL kids. This "those kids have privilege" and therefore don't deserve attention is wrong. ALL kids. But the majority of the supports need to go to those kids at-risk and Sped.

Every single child needs challenge and support but there's no one "right" way for all kids.

NNE Mom, good question. Is school all about academics? It is not. As someone who tutors kindergarteners, I see how much it is about socialization and kids learning to work with each other and interact with each other, singly and as a community.

David, thank you for those thoughtful and honest comments. I sense you are not alone in your feelings.

Sandor, good point on the grad rate but I note it has been slowly but steadily going up. And, I can say from assessing kindergarteners that it is a struggle when so many come in with low levels of readiness. But we have to start from where they come in from.

I like your last paragraph and I say over and over that the district's job IS every child but again, it feels like you get different things at different schools with no apparent clarity about why or how.

Anonymous said...

"Are you saying that all kids could master concepts at the same rate, if they were just given the opportunity?"

This is Exhibit A of why patients should always be accompanied by a non-biased listener when they are getting treatment: They filter what they hear by their
fears and biases. It's hard to be an unbiased listener when your kids are involved.
Believe me, that is very apparent on this blog.

You are completely misinformed about my motivation, advocacy and work to promote student success, and track record as teacher who works on a value-added model.

Since entire demographics are being cheated out of achieving their potential in SPS HCC, I'll continue to speak up.

I hesitate to respond to Sit 'n Spin. If humor is indicative of intelligence, your post is more than a few cans short of a six pack.

As per usual, MW plays footloose and fancy free with her own blog rules when her well-shorn narrative is being reflected and promoted.

Almost Time

Anonymous said...

@ Almost (About?) Time,

What's so wrong with that first commebt you quoted? It perfectly matches my experience with my own fast-learning child, too, but it doesn't blind me to the reality that not all learn so quickly. In fact, that's why I oppose one-size-fits-all approaches.


Anonymous said...

How can "equity" be SPS' first priority, when it has no agreed upon definition, can't really be measured, and has no agreed upon criteria for success? How will we know when we achieve "equity"?

In the meantime, the bureaucrats pushing "equity" have driven 30% of Seattle's kids to private schools and countless others to the suburbs. Is this what we really want?

Why can't SPS' first priority be to give every kid in SPS the academic challenge they need?

Fed Up

Melissa Westbrook said...

"You are completely misinformed about my motivation, advocacy and work to promote student success, and track record as teacher who works on a value-added model."

And this is based on you telling us this. You could be anybody.

And it's interesting when someone can tell you - over and over - how wrong you are without offering solutions. Hmmm

Anonymous said...

Fundamentally, public education is about creating an educated citizenry. Martin Luther King's speeches were persuasive for many reasons, but part of the reason they were persuasive was that most Americans with even a high school education could recognize the references (to Lincoln, the Declaration of Independence, the Old Testament, etc.) The speeches were created by someone who had read widely and thought deeply. They were also some of the most persuasive calls for social justice ever written.

Literature, history, and art are filled with issues related to social justice. Kids are smart, and they get this. They will get it by reading Toni Morrison and Shakespeare and Chinua Achebe and George Elliot and Sherman Alexie. They don't need to be preached to.

I think public education should teach kids about math and science and civics. In addition, I think public education should engage kids in thinking about the good, the true, and the beautiful. How do we do this in a secular context? I think wide exposure to the liberal arts is a good start.

We Can Do This

Anonymous said...

@David-- I agree with you. We have multiple issues in our district, not all the fault of the district. There are some really great public school districts in our country. In my experience, especially on the east coast, but they are also very small, with small administrations, very well resourced etc. We have major tax related issues in WA state. I keep thinking SPS is just too big and spreading their resources & focus so thin serves nobody well. The lack of funding and sheer size makes this district have many issues.

Unsettling Undertones said...

This is alarming. In the Oct. 11 Board Agenda, they say that some students should:
• use class time "to work independently and in their own way" (like study hall?)
• track their own growth, and set their own goals (like grade themselves and write their own lesson plans?)
• be put in front of a screen once they've met the learning goals (this would be the majority of the time for any students who are working 1-2 years ahead of grade level, which is 30% of the students in NW Seattle).
• to have technology create unique assignments for each student (like the computer will teach the class?)

The board agenda also says that research shows that academic acceleration is necessary for advanced learners but that some teachers don't want students going too far ahead. That seems self-contradictory.

Some of the social/emotional goals for advanced learners were also troubling. Based on site visits, they highlighted four things that they wanted advanced learners to achieve in social emotional terms. And two of them were essentially
• "I'd like to see them become more empathetic for students that struggle with learning."
• "A few students…behave in an arrogant way. Because they are so proud of what they can do academically."

These may be actual problems and actual social/emotional learning goals for some advanced learners, but, really, this is 50% of what's worth mentioning about their social emotion development? That a few students need to be take down a notch? Need to be taught a lesson? Need to eat some humble pie? It's like principals and teachers feel like the kids need to be bullied into submission.

It's unsettling for this to be 50% of what's worth mentioning for these students. Not a word about perfectionism, anxiety, how to deal with asynchrony in a healthy/wholesome manner (especially as a challenge in social relationships), motivation, leadership, psychosocial aspects of talent development, intensities, how to recognize conditions that may be masked by giftedness (like learning disabilities or depression), intersectionality, mentoring, etc.

There's a good powerpoint about actual social/emotion development issues for advanced learners here: http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/WebinarPowerPoints/The%20Social%20and%20Emotional%20Development%20of%20Gifted%20Children%20with%20Assessing%20Services.pdf

If we look at the inverse, for example, principals and teachers would never make 50% of their social/emotional goals for students who are struggling academically:
• "I'd like to see them become more empathetic to other students."
• "A few students…behave in an arrogant way."

This has nothing to do with being an advanced learner. This should be a social-emotional goal for ALL students. Including this in the advanced learning report is evidence of an anti-advanced-learner environment at some schools.

Anonymous said...

SPS's so called social/emotional goals sounds more like re-education activities. The best thing for my child's social emotional health is an appropriately challenging academic environment - one that doesn't disparage my child for wanting to excel, and where they actually teach the subject at hand.


Anonymous said...

Actually, a significant benefit of putting my son in HCC was that he would not easily get a perfect grade, but would have to struggle to do well. Also, I wanted his environment to include kids who were smarter than him, so that he would have a better attitude towards others.

I don't think the board understands that having HCC kids together actually mitigates those problems in kids. Kids naturally compare themselves to those around them, not any national or district group.


Anonymous said...

@Momof2-- Wholeheartedly agree with exactly what you stated, same for us.

Anonymous said...

@Momof2 - ditto for us as well.


Anonymous said...

@momof2-ditto that, plus an opportunity for more diversity than our neighborhood school offers.

Fix AL

Anonymous said...

Momof2, I think you have hit on the inarguable truth of why HCC is needed. Kids in the cohort move to an experience akin to what a gen ed kid gets in a gen ed classroom. They're not "advanced" anymore, just kids in a class. It takes them down a notch. Let me be the first to say my HCC kid needed that.

Fix AL, our HCC school was more diverse than the school we left too.

Good move

Anonymous said...

"I think you have hit on the inarguable truth of why HCC is needed."

Classic comment. I guess all the other ones have been rebutted.

Btw, plenty of highly advanced students don't have a superiority attitude.

Students who are actually gifted need services in order for them get supports that address their special needs. Some of these needs are social-emotional.

Arrogance isn't a DSM category, although it is a descriptor for some.

Almost Time

Melissa Westbrook said...

Almost Time, yes, I agree. I think some people are arrogant as well.

Anonymous said...

@ Almost Time, geez louise. Do you really need to comment on every little thing that rubs you the wrong way? Of course there are "plenty of highly advanced students [who] don't have a superiority attitude." And...nobody said there aren't. If you would read and maybe count to ten before just reacting with your itchy comment fingers, what @Good move referred to a "the inarguable truth of why HCC is needed" was so that HC kids could get "an experience akin to what a gen ed kid gets in a gen ed classroom. They're not 'advanced' anymore, just kids in a class." Yes, it "takes them down a notch", but that doesn't imply they all needed that. Needing to not always be the smartest in the room does not mean that kids have a sense of superiority--for some, they instead feel a sense of isolation, a sense of frustration that they can't move forward, a sense that school is pointless, a fear of making a mistake, etc. There are a lot of good non-academic reasons for these kids to be with other similar kids. By saying one thing is true, it does not mean it's the ONLY thing that's true, or that it's true for ALL.


Anonymous said...


The chain of "amens" was affirming the narrative of the quoted principal in the School Board report that stated that these students were behaving arrogantly. Nancy Herzog's report used meta-data to show that the social-emotional issues arise from the need for these students to have special services, and that the services/placement itself usually ameliorates these problems. @concerned stated that succinctly.

I reiterate that plenty of highly advanced students do not have a superiority attitude. I will go on to say that, from my own experience, I have found the opposite to be true for gifted students. Their asynchronousness often makes them very sensitive and empathetic to the needs of others, including when they are in general education (while my recommendation for them for HC is being processed).

My M.O. continues to be advocating for the needs of the students in SPS who are being excluded from needed HC services (and correcting the responses on this blog when this exclusion is being rationalized away--which have sadly been prolific).

About Time

Anonymous said...

Thank you @About Time for continuing to speak truth to privilege. The district is fomenting this conflict that really serves no one.

The Superintendent refuses to address the under-represented groups within the Cohort.

He refuses to address the gold rush mentality of parents who feel their kids will suffer from attending their local schools with gened students in their core classes.

He refuses to offer a program that will help real outliers, in the 145 and up IQ range.

He refuses to look at the private testing rules that allow for multiple, unlimited actually, private tests by those who can afford to test over and over.

He refuses to acknowledge the number of poor, ELL, SpED, single subject gifted, artistically gifted and other overlooked students who are being denied protection of the RCW regarding the gifted population.

The Board needs to replace him.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Neil, well said. I may pass this along to the Board.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Melissa, please pass it on.

Stop being sarcastic to me while you're at it.

You are playing both sides of the fence, and consistently attempt
to drive my message away with your snide commnets.

I can handle it, as you may have noticed.

But it doesn't help this blog's image.

Almost Time

Anonymous said...

Btw, please pass it on in the spirit of affirming Neil's point, rather than using his detailed posting as fodder to pursue other political ends.

I say that because you have certainly not proven yourself to share Neil's message and have, with the exception of a few token issuances, been a consistent and reliable messenger for the opposite of what he is advocating.

Almost Time

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what Neil said accept the unnecessary slam that hcc participants are not interested in being in core classes with gen ed students. That's a lie. Don't speak for us. We come from an ALO school that refused any acceleration beyond grade level other than sending stacks of extra worksheets home for parents to tackle with their gifted student outside of class. We reluctantly left an amazing community and would have happily stayed for any form of acceleration: walk to, pull out, ability grouping...anything. No luck, much head pounding. Please stop blaming parents for taking the direction of SPS admin to send bright kids away to a cohort and start exposing schools and administrators who won't serve students' needs and desire to learn.

ALO Fail

Anonymous said...

Yes, the district is fomenting conflict, and yes, they fail to serve many students, but strange that the blame is somehow placed with Nyland alone. The weakening of AL took on a new urgency with MT at the helm. The recent Spectrum program review is filled with anti-AL sentiment. Personal biases seem to be guiding decision making.

"Gold rush mentality?" For the umpteenth time, if differentiation was enough to serve the full range of AL students, why would so many families leave their neighborhood school? It's because meaningful differentiation is the exception rather than the rule.

Today's Seattle Times article about Washington State college graduation rates touches on the issue of trying to serve a range of learning needs within one classroom. One university said they backed off their approach of offering merit aid to attract National Merit Scholars. Sounds like they backed off trying to attract and serve the more advanced students.

Would eliminating private testing as part of appeals actually change the demographics? If the ultimate goal, however, is to identify students who need services, why would you want to restrict the appeals process?

fix SPS

Melissa Westbrook said...

Almost Time, not going to engage so I don't care. The blog's image is what it is and I'm proud of it. I'm not really here to make friends or have people like me. I'm here to provide information you don't get anywhere else and provide a place for discussion (which you also won't find anywhere else and if there is some other place, you're welcome to go there).

Fix SPS, I think eliminating private testing would not change the demographics; it would just make for a smaller program. For a program testing kids as young as kindergarten to have no appeal process that involves retesting seems unfair but the district can certain try it and see.

Anonymous said...

Eliminating the appeals process would disproportionately discriminate against 2e students so should thus be illegal.

All tyoes

Anonymous said...

"For a program testing kids as young as kindergarten to have no appeal process that involves retesting seems unfair but the district can certain try it and see."

It does seem unfair if there's no other accommodation for that child. Spectrum used to be that safety net in SPS, but without it there's no support in place to make sure that child can stretch academically. At least by having the option to try a different test, a few more kids can be identified who wouldn't be otherwise. And not because they aren't really qualified, but because the alternate test is more accurate than the one SPS uses.


Anonymous said...

The Highly Capable WAC requires an appeals process. What's not required, and what SPS allows but some other districts may not, is private testing as part of the appeals process. Changing district policy to eliminate private testing would negatively impact 2E students, though it would not be illegal.

WAC 392-170-076 Process for appeal.
Each district shall have a clear and written procedure for appealing the multidisciplinary selection committee's decision and disseminate this procedure to the public.


Melissa Westbrook said...

It would be interesting to see what other districts do for appeals.

Anonymous said...

@ details, not illegal under our Highly Capable law, but I was thinking more about federal special ed laws. Such as:



104.35 Evaluation and placement.

(a) Preplacement evaluation. A recipient that operates a public elementary or secondary education program or activity shall conduct an evaluation in accordance with the requirements of paragraph (b) of this section of any person who, because of handicap, needs or is believed to need special education or related services before taking any action with respect to the initial placement of the person in regular or special education and any subsequent significant change in placement.

(b) Evaluation procedures. A recipient to which this subpart applies shall establish standards and procedures for the evaluation and placement of persons who, because of handicap, need or are believed to need special education or related services which ensure that:

(1) Tests and other evaluation materials have been validated for the specific purpose for which they are used and are administered by trained personnel in conformance with the instructions provided by their producer;

(2) Tests and other evaluation materials include those tailored to assess specific areas of educational need and not merely those which are designed to provide a single general intelligence quotient; and

(3) Tests are selected and administered so as best to ensure that, when a test is administered to a student with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills, the test results accurately reflect the student's aptitude or achievement level or whatever other factor the test purports to measure, rather than reflecting the student's impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills (except where those skills are the factors that the test purports to measure).

I suspect that if SPS decided to eliminate the private testing, parents of 2e students could sue...and would probably have a good case. Not that SPS minds paying out on SpEd lawsuits, but if a bunch of parents banded together, they could probably pressure a change...

All types

Snoopy said...

A study was done in Minnesota to look for what percentage of gifted students also had a disability:

When they began looking, they found that 14% of gifted students had a disability:
Attention Deficit Disorders -> 7%
Emotional/Behavioral Disorders -> 3%
Autism Spectrum Disorders -> 1%
Specific Learning Disabilities -> 3%

The article includes strategies for identifying "twice exceptionality" and for addressing their distinct learning differences. We have about 3000 identified HCC students so if 14% of them were 2E that would be more than 400 students.

G Factor said...

Half of people are of below average. Half of people are above average. That's what an average is. Capacities vary. No matter how hard they work, most people can't be Aristotle or Goethe or Michael Jackson. Students' intelligence matters when it comes to education.

The SAT is a good measure of general intelligence. SAT scores predict college GPA. Not only that, you can calculate a person's estimated IQ from their SAT score. And doctors do. When a patient has suffered a brain injury, doctors often don't know how intelligent the person was prior to the injury so they have a hard time assessing any new deficits there may be. But they can usually find an SAT score for the patient. And they use that to calculate what the patient's IQ likely was prior to the injury. Sadly pretty much no one is aware of any verified cases where brain damage or illness resulted in increased intellectual ability.

There is also a link between intelligence and life expectancy:

Intelligence is a factor. It plays into things. Particularly when it comes to education. College probably isn't a good fit for all students:

Public education needs to educate all the students, but it's cruel for schools and educators to suggest that students will all be the same if they just work hard. They will all benefit from working hard, but we need a public education system that will teach and mentor students with an IQ of 80 and students with an IQ of 160. All with dignity. And no matter what their address within the district is.