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Friday, June 22, 2018

High School Science Updates (almost) Straight From the District

I was sent a couple of memos that went out from the head of the district's Science Department, MaryMargaret Welch.  Pretty eye-opening but more to the point, troubling.  It sounds like this whole revamping needs a reset (and some oversight by the Board).  I'll print the key memo at the end of this post but here are the concerning issues.


1) Physics A

In early May, Welch told one Science teacher this:

The adoption is fully funded.  Monies have been allocated for instructional materials purchase.
The application will be made available in the fall. Please watch the web site and do plan to apply.

However, it appears that schools may have thought this was an adoption and that the adoption had happened but neither thing is true.
  
Here's a reply from one school:

Thanks for the information. Consider the cost of PEER, 420 per unit per class, 3 units of phys A is 1260, 9 physics A classes in (BLANK) cost $11340 annually. We can’t afford even  half of the cost year after year.

2) Then there was a memo dated June 21st.  

- The head of the Science department says that they didn't know what kind of science budget high schools have.

We had NO idea the size of your building budgets. They are super small and it truly amazing how much you do with so little. We are a bit embarrassed that we even asked about the cost sharing when we found out how little you have for your entire department

- As well, she admits that  - probably for months - that some teachers didn't know what she was talking about because her communications were not clear on what an adoption is and what this current effort is.

Like these changes coming to high school sciences are not an adoption so it's not the same as one, including funding for resource materials.

- They will figure this out by the end of July?  Boy, that doesn't leave a lot of time for teachers to get up to speed on whatever materials are selected AND write lesson plans to work with those.

- They want teachers to share class sets.  I'm not a teacher in a department but I'd lay odds that sharing is probably not an easy thing.

It would be helpful to get a quick head count per school who wants to use the PEER supplemental resources and how many class sets you need per school (doing your best to share class sets please).


It's unclear what is going to happen in high school science in the fall. 
Entire memo


Dear Colleagues,

OH MY!  What a crazy whirlwind of learning these past two days. We made some assumptions, and actually really didn’t understand some important elements about your buildings. Furthermore, we didn’t clearly communicate some important vocabulary that we need as we move forward. It was confusing! 

Let us make a second attempt at this communication to bring some clarity. 
  1. CELEBRATION! Together we have made such important strides forward in learning NGSS and applying these learnings to our practice. So many of you are eager to continue to collaboration and continue to figure this out together.  THANK YOU!
  2. Budget Realities: We had NO idea the size of your building budgets. They are super small and it truly amazing how much you do with so little. We are a bit embarrassed that we even asked about the cost sharing when we found out how little you have for your entire department.  Thank you for showing your support and trying to make PEER work in your budget and keep our collaboration alive.
  3. Practicalities: Next fall you will sit in front of your new 150+ kids, and you will need instructional materials to teach them. We have moved beyond the wiki and we need aligned materials to teach our students.  So, in an effort to keep us moving forward without rewriting curriculum on our own, we thought we would try another unit from UC Boulder.  These are the same folks that we partnered with for the Waves Unit. But since that next unit has a cost, we were trying to strategize best options. 
  4. Adoption Question: Does the district purchase materials during an Adoption? YES, this is true but we are not yet adopting. An adoption is a very formal process that is overseen by the Board Policy 2015, that takes about a year. At the culmination of that year is when monies are given to purchase the selected materials. There are VERY strict rules and protocols. This is a brief overview of the series of events that HS will begin in the fall:
    1. Officially announce the adoption to all stakeholders by creating an Adoption Web Page and communicate broadly
    2. Actively recruit members for the adoption committee from both the staff and the community
    3. Conduct a needs assessment with all stakeholders to seek input on what they hope for in 9-12 science
    4. Meeting with the Instructional Materials Committee, a standing committee that reviews all adoption processes to approve the timeline, approve the adoption committee membership and approve the Racial Equity Tool that we must use during the adoption. 
    5. The Adoption Committee convenes to determine the criteria we will use to evaluate all instructional materials.
    6. District Content Collaborations will give input in each discipline
    7. All potential instructional materials for each discipline are carefully reviewed using the Criteria for Selecting Instructional Materials
    8. Finalists go in to classrooms for piloting. Pilot teachers give input on the effectiveness of the resources. 
    9. The Adoption Committee reviews pilot input along with their own evaluation using the Criteria for Selecting Instructional Materials and make a recommendation to the Instructional Materials Committee
    10. The Instructional Materials Committee makes a recommendation to the Board.
    11. The Board makes the final decision. 
As you can see, this overview is full of necessary checks and balances so that the money can be spent appropriately.

  1. PEER Instructional Materials: These are supplemental materials that align to the new standards that some schools have asked to use this year while we evaluate all potential candidates through the Adoption Process. These materials are NOT the adoption.

OK! Where does that leave us now?......... Regroup! 

MM will talk to the PEER folks and figure out how to make something work. We will likely not have an answer until the end of July but we will figure out our best way forward!  If you don’t check your district email over the summer and want us to let you know as early as possible, please send us your home email and we promise to let you know as soon as you know.

We look forward to working with you the week of August 20-24. We are in this together!

Thanks for reading this ridiculously long email!  Send your questions to us and we will do our best to answer as quickly as possible. 

It would be helpful to get a quick head count per school who wants to use the PEER supplemental resources and how many class sets you need per school (doing your best to share class sets please). 

Thank you for your attention and please let us know your questions. We are truly grateful for your collaborative efforts and hope to see you in the summer.

Kim Dinh and MaryMargaret Welch
 

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

left hand ---- meet right hand ---- nice to know you, even if it's 2 years and counting

to the rest of you: welcome to SPS administration-school "partnerships". same as it ever was.


DistrictWatcher

Grouchy Parent said...

How can the head of the district's science dept. not know even a ballpark of what science budgets the buildings have or how to adopt new materials? This is incompetent.

Unknown said...

The building budgets are set by building principals, and while central command should know how the budgets are being used, it's not surprising to know that that information doesn't filter back down to the subject-area specialists.

This is all part of that local control, building control, site-based decision-making, empowering subordinates kind of mentality that Seattle is enamored of.

Anonymous said...

Do other districts include textbook materials in school budgets, or are they more centrally funded? This has long been an issue in SPS. Schools end up doing without as they prioritize other budget items. Still scratching my head about a seeming lack of assessment of current materials and course needs, and the move around a formal adoption process. What if schools said: "we're not changing without a formal adoption and additional funding."

so discouraging

Melissa Westbrook said...

Unknown, I'm going with those who think this is just ridiculous. MMW should know about school budgets for at least her own department.

But, to your point about principals, I concur. I will be urging parents to write to Denise Juneau, when she takes over, to put reining in principals in the top five to get done on her "to-do" list.

Anonymous said...

My impression was that they aren't changing textbooks, just changing the order in which certain things are taught--which could possibly be done using the same books as now? Since most GE students would take the joint Physics A/Chemistry A class in 9th and then Physics B/Chemistry B in 11th, it's theoretically possible that they'd be able to share, but only if the order were reversed between 9th and 11th (i.e., the chem part comes fist in 9th, the physics part comes first in 11th).

Another wacky science alignment thing:

Apparently those who really want a full year of either Chem or Physics can also take a C option (i.e., instead of Physics B/Chemistry B in 11th they could take Physics B+C or Chem B+C). However, in either case they'd ALSO need to take the "B" version of the other, too. Why does it now take 1.5 years to take a "full year" of Chem or Physics?

Say what?

Anonymous said...

The "current" textbook for high school Chemistry is Addison-Wesley Chemistry, fourth edition. Copyright 1995. Sixteen freakin' elements ago!

Anonymous said...

You would think that they would send out a survey to all the high schools asking them what their science budget is. At Hale, every year for science, there was an ask for funding of around $15 per student. Our family would always donate more to cover families who couldn't or wouldn't. It was obvious to me that science budgets were tight.

HP

Anonymous said...

And keep an eye on the middle school adoption process of Amplify science curriculum. Mary Margaret was kind enough to let us observe a class, and I will admit it was better than expected when the teacher is engaged. But there still appeared many drawbacks:
Pros:
*Contrary to the 20 minute boring videos the Whitman kids were complaining of, Mrs. X said there should be no video longer than 4 minutes, and the students told me they enjoyed the videos.

*There appeared to be 2 students per computer. The group work certainly facilitated more discussion among students than I was expecting. It was nice to see students excited to talk about science.

Cons:
The students spent most of the class on the computer. This appeared to have several drawbacks that we could observe.

*Many studies have found that students retain knowledge better when asked to write it down. I am aware of college professors, in acknowledgement of this research, that ban computers in the lecture hall. I asked one of the science students about this, and she said she found this to be true. However, the emphasis of group work on the computers meant we only observed 5 minutes of note-taking during the class. (https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/take-notes-by-hand-for-better-long-term-comprehension.html)

*Mrs. X was a dynamic, engaged teacher. Even with that I saw google.com briefly pop up on one of the students’ laptops. I imagine a less experience teacher would constantly be fighting with the world wide web for attention.

*The group work on the computer, while promoting discussion, meant that it was only necessary for one person in the group to engage or know the answers. While this has always been the case for group work, the fact that the students spend almost the entire class on the computer for the Amplify curriculum means that there is limited individual responsibility.

*When discussing our observations with a Whitman student, she asked if the teacher explained the climate model in the computer simulation. One of her complaints is that her teacher never explained why the correct answer for the model assessments were correct. We realized this was also the case for the class we observed. Mimicking the right answer does not indicate comprehension.

*All of this appeared to contribute to the students’ confusion of the subject of climate change. Of the three assessments we observed during class time, the first one went well, the second one seemed to only get about 50% correct answers, and for the third one, only two of the five groups were able to provide even one example of how we know climates in the past were different than the current climate, let alone the three examples asked of by the teacher. We wonder if the outcome would have been different if the students had notes in their notebook they could have referred to in order to find the answer.

*Again, Mrs. X was a committed teacher and I admire her enthusiasm and skill. We discussed how easy this curriculum would be to use as a crutch for a teacher who did not want to teach. (Students, pull out your computers and get to work.) This appears to be what happened in Whitman. At least, when lecturing, teachers have a motivational reason to know the material.

*As a scientist, I do acknowledge that familiarity of computers in necessary in the 21st century. However, this does not mean that computers must be present in every aspect of school in order to teach kids how to use them. I program computers for data analysis for a living, and I didn’t even have my own email address until college. It is not necessary to establish expertise and saturation as a middle schooler to set a kid up for life in a technological world.

-NW

Melissa Westbrook said...

"It is not necessary to establish expertise and saturation as a middle schooler to set a kid up for life in a technological world."

An excellent point but I would say that it's not really about getting kids ready for a technological world. It's about 1)having them on a device to collect data about them, 2)it's about creating workers, not educating citizens and 3) we clearly got a man to the moon (and back) without today's advanced technology. Kids can still learn a lot just with a teacher.

Anonymous said...

MW -

I'd asked about the science adoption and class sequence on another thread and you said you'd investigate.

Thank you for doing so.

My one takeaway ... that memo is shocking. How is this acceptable work product?

northwesterner

kellie said...

Thanks for this update Mel. So this memo can be used to summarize the process like this.

We have been doing a Science ALIGNMENT for FIVE years. This alignment has been done with a great committee of excellent teachers AND done in a complete vacuum, (like a good science experiment).

The ALIGNMENT is then taken out of the vacuum and exposed to other teachers, parents and the board, to great upset and push back. The answer is don't worry your pretty little heads. This is just an ALIGNMENT. Those Ballard teachers are causing a lot of fuss for no reason.

Parents, the board and other teachers, say ... This looks like an ADOPTION, not an ALIGNMENT. Because the difference is that an ADOPTION required the board to approve money for all new materials and this really looks like you are going to need all new materials and some money.

The response is nope. This is just an ALIGNMENT. Back off. We need to protect the great work investment of the committee who worked so hard on this ALIGNMENT.

So now .. School is out of the year and ... Ooops. We need MONEY to buy materials and we don't have any money, because there are policies about spending money. I thought the teachers inside the buildings had money and that is why we didn't need to do an ADOPTION and do all that formal community engagement with all of those pesky safeguards.

Hmmmm .... what happens now. We are out of time. We have no money to pay for vast and sweeping changes.






kellie said...

Seriously. Culture of lawlessness doesn't even begin to describe how FUBAR this process has become. To spell is out. FUBAR is a military term to describe what happens when a plan hits reality. Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

This is an epic fail on the part of administration.

To be extra clear, the TEACHERS who worked on this committee are not to blame. Teachers are supposed to focus on the best educational outcome. IMHO, agreeing or disagreeing with the committee conclusions are irrelevant at this point, because the process has finally hit a hard wall.

Administration took on a process that started as a simple alignment. Then as happens with committees everywhere ... scope creep. The process morphed from an alignment is an entire overhaul of how we think about high school science.

At some point, the scope creep caused the committee to vastly overstep its mandate. This happens. This is normal committee crap. But at that point, Administration has a responsibility to either restrict the process to the limits of an alignment or expand the process into a formal adoption.

Neither of those things happened. The reality is pretty simple. At some point, this alignment turned into an adoption. The board to their credit raised this issue several months ago and Administration assured the board that this really is an alignment.

There are only two options now.

1) The entire process is halted for a FULL YEAR OR MORE so that the appropriate adoption process can happen. So that students and teachers get a new curriculum and new materials AT THE SAME TIME.

2) Everyone soldiers on and tries to save face. Some money is cobbled together from "various sources." I would not be surprised if all of a sudden there was a little bit of BTA money that could be used from the various sources pile. This is followed by a cheerful memo asking teachers to once again, do their best with no real science materials because there is no real money.


I need to take a moment to really applaud our teachers. We ask our teachers day in and day out to do so much with so little support. Thank you for continuing to find a way a teach inside this crazy process.


Anonymous said...

I think this has already been implemented to some extent, hasn't it? With GE students who just finished 9th grade, for example, already taking that 1/2 Physics-1/2 Chemistry class, at least at some schools? Leading to a whole lt of various scenarios for who takes what and when?

Messy

Melissa Westbrook said...

I did send this thread to the Board. It's up to them and new superintendent Denise Juneau to figure out what to do but clearly, what has been happening is not cohesive or coherent.

Anonymous said...

Wow this is really crazy and demonstrates the result of a much too large school district operating in silo's. I really wish SPS was broken up into at least several smaller districts, they are so much more efficient and have fewer admin staff as well. The committee leaders had no idea of the individual school's departmental budgets. The poor kids and teachers if this gets implemented in a haphazard way this next year. STOP and work through important details before more damage is done.
A parent

Anonymous said...

Didn't they already start implementation this PAST year?

Chaos theory

Eric M said...

This mismanagement is causing competent science teachers to leave the district.

Anonymous said...

I’m deeply distressed about the unprofessionalism of that email. I would have thought it a spoof, but I guess it’s not.

Anonymous said...

I am distressed about the unprofessionalism of that email. I would have thought it a spoof, but I guess it’s not.

Signing,
zb

Wildcat said...

How does the lack of clarity around this effect high school schedules? Aren't counselors creating schedules now and principals hiring/allocating teachers? At this point, are all high schools doing the Physics A/Chem A sequence?

On another note, I have yet to meet one Whitman kid who doesn't hate the amplify science. In 7th grade, you either have a great, interesting year or a really boring crappy year. "Labs" consist of things like getting up from your computer to go feel a rock with your eyes closed. The kids are sad. That makes me sad.

Anonymous said...

So, what I understand as a parent and scientist (Cell Biologist at UW/FHCRC) is that there hasn't been a science curriculum adoption in SPS for decades. Science has changed so much in that time! Whether the process is perfect or not, shouldn't we be adopting new curriculum now? Really, shouldn't have done this so long ago, and be doing it again? At that level, we should be thankful that Ms. Welch has been able to make that happen compared to other for Science Program leaders that haven't in all that time. Maybe people should stop complaining about progress... can it really be worse than nothing? Or 20year old science? Arguing that you still want to teach 20yr old science to my kids is SO embarrassing.

-Progress is good, and change can be hard...

dan dempsey said...

Classic example of top down management. Leader Clueless about school and classroom conditions. ... Any wonder why teachers leave Teaching? ...

Anonymous said...

@Progress is good, but it’s not really a new science curriculum adoption, is it? An actual adoption requires public review and board approval. Is this just a reorganization or reordering of the same old curricula? What did Ms. Welch hope the building-level funding would go toward—extra copies to support the chopped up approach? New supplemental materials? Something else?

So confused

kellie said...

@ Progress,

Yes, progress would be good. Progress is never perfect. But the problem here is rather simple in the end and the memo really crispy outlines the problem.

Adoption Question: Does the district purchase materials during an Adoption? YES, this is true but we are not yet adopting. An adoption is a very formal process that is overseen by the Board Policy 2015, that takes about a year. At the culmination of that year is when monies are given to purchase the selected materials. There are VERY strict rules and protocols.

The committee was only authorized to do a minor process of an alignment to new standards. The committee most likely realized that because the core materials are so out of date that an adoption was required.

I think to anyone who has even glanced at this problem, is pretty clear that a full science adoption is required, for many reasons. These reasons include but are not limited to, its just time, Core 24, the new science standards, opening a new high school with a geosplit, etc.

However, rather than actually starting an adoption process with the "very strict rules and protocols" everyone soldiered on to make an alignment work. This committee worked over a period of FIVE YEARS. Even complicated, political and fraught adoptions are typically completed with the materials purchased and in the school buildings with a 12-24 month window.

The memo outlines the adoption process with this very ironic conclusion. As you can see, this overview is full of necessary checks and balances so that the money can be spent appropriately.

And that is the point. An adoption process is full of checks and balances. An alignment process does NOT have any checks or balances. This committee enacted an adoption under the title of an alignment.

And now everyone is backed into a corner where no money has been allocated but so much time and energy has been allocated that there is no simple solution.



Anonymous said...

And now everyone is backed into a corner where no money has been allocated but so much time and energy has been allocated that there is no simple solution.

Nor does there appear to be an actual new curriculum that is "adopted." The PEER instructional materials referenced seem to be optional, supplemental materials that align to the new standards, and some schools may use and others may not. So much for equity, consistency, etc.

I particularly love this part of the memo/email:

Practicalities: Next fall you will sit in front of your new 150+ kids, and you will need instructional materials to teach them. We have moved beyond the wiki and we need aligned materials to teach our students. So, in an effort to keep us moving forward without rewriting curriculum on our own, we thought we would try another unit from UC Boulder. These are the same folks that we partnered with for the Waves Unit... Adoption Question: Does the district purchase materials during an Adoption? YES, this is true but we are not yet adopting.

So basically they are saying this? "We created a new sequence to meet the new standards, and our current curricular materials don't cover what needs to be covered, so we need a new curriculum. But we didn't bother to start a curriculum adoption process by which the district would cover materials, so we'll just call them "supplemental" materials and hope all you schools will cover the cost instead. If you don't, you won't have materials to use for instruction on those new units--sorry! But we didn't want to bother with a formal adoption, because that comes with so much oversight and so many rules."

Madness