Sunday, December 30, 2018

Seattle Schools Science Curriculum News

Dear Families,

It is an exciting time for science instruction in our district! We are currently in a Science Curriculum Adoption Process for grades K-12. This process will provide new instructional materials and support for all our classrooms teaching science for the 2019-20 school year. Our last elementary adoption was in 1995, middle school in 2002 and high school various times before 2000; not only has science changed significantly in the last twenty years, but we know so much more about how children learn.

Washington State adopted new science standards in 2013, and it is our obligation to our students to align to these new standards. The biggest shift in science instruction has been from “learning about” to “figuring out” where students work through a series of connected lessons anchored in explaining a compelling science phenomenon. This revolution in science education will provide a rigorous, engaging experience for all our students and will ensure they are college and career ready.

Follow the K-12 Science Adoption process on our website: https://tinyurl.com/SPSScienceAdoption

Science Instructional Materials Open House

We are hosting two Science Instructional Materials Open Houses where we will give you time to review the candidates being considered for adoption by the district, provide information about the new standards and how science will look different for your child, and answer your questions. 

Saturday, February 2, 2019 at the John Stanford Center, 2445 3rd Ave S. (library, second floor)

  • Elementary: 9 - 11 a.m.
  • Middle School: 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
  • High School: 1 - 3 p.m.
Saturday, February 9, 2019 at the Rainier Beach Community Center, 8825 Rainier Ave S.

  • Elementary: 9 - 11 a.m.
  • Middle School: 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
  • High School: 1 - 3 p.m.
K-8 and High School Science Instructional Materials Display
Instructional materials will be on display in the locations listed below from January 15, 2019 – February 28, 2019. We encourage our community to engage in this process by coming to one of these locations and sharing their input.

K-8 instructional materials will be available in the libraries of the buildings at the following locations during regular school hours:

John Stanford Center, 2445 3rd Ave S
South Shore K-8, 4800 S Henderson St.
Pathfinder K-8, 1901 SW Genesee St.
Salmon Bay K-8, 1810 NW 65th St.
Hazel Wolf K-8, 11530 12th Ave NE

High School instructional materials will be available in the libraries of the schools below during regular school hours:

Chief Sealth High School, 2600 SW Thistle St.
Garfield High School, 400 23rd Ave.
Ingraham High School, 1810 N 135th St. '

MaryMargaret Welch, 

Science Program Manager, and the SPS Science Department

I am glad to see this information, however, I'm not sure it negates all the confusion/mistrust over the science curriculum.  I see no wording about parental input, just questions.

I also wonder why both open houses are in far south locations.  Why couldn't one be in the north and one in the south?


Anonymous said...

OMG, do I wish they did a better job of filling out that Racial Equity Analysis Tool. I'm tired of all the vagueness and spin--just give us the details, as in actual outcomes and indicators they'll use to measure success. For unintended consequences, let's look at impacts on other groups not included as those targeted by the tool. For all those sections that are supposed to involve community engagement to figure them out, let's not have staff fill them out ahead of time, before such engagement. And so on.

Tool Spin

Eric M said...

Last school year, by this time, via these same district functionaries who are still running this show, high school science teachers had already been notified that a new curriculum had been mostly developed.

We were also notified that most existing science classes would be scrapped in favor of a new set of classes with new content and sequence across the four years of high school.

We were told this was non-negotiable, and would begin for this school year. The one we're in now. Most of us were taken completely by surprise. As might be obvious, that non-negotiable timetable just kind of evaporated when it hit reality.

When we pointed out logistical concerns, we were told that counselors would sign up students for existing classes, and students and families would just find out later what they were actually going to get on their schedule.

We also pointed out that the non-negotiable position of central administration staff on this plan would require that half of our teachers be re-assigned to teach the "mandatory" new 9th grade curriculum, with corresponding loss of other classes, including electives.

We also asked where the money was to support this sweeping change. Readers of this blog may recall some action last June on this very blog, where central admin staff express surprise and dismay when they finally learned that science departments across the district have approximately ZERO funding for materials or curriculum. Asking where the money is still (and always) a valid concern in Seattle Public Schools. Isn't there a little concern growing about a budget shortfall next year?

We also asked about "piloting" any of this new curriculum. Be very thorough, and ask followup questions, if you have a chance to ask staff about piloting. Piloting, to me, a science teacher with 32 years experience and National Board Certification, means that a small group of lead teachers within a much larger district, has worked with a curriculum for an entire year, and really dug into finding the strong and weak parts, and developed supplementary materials, and is able to hand off a solid working foundation to an entire staff. It does not mean "In December, we cooked up 3 weeks of things to do about magnets" and some teachers tried this out in January, so we're good to go for the new, year-long science class.

Sorry, but I don't have any confidence in the "leadership" that cooked up this "plan". I don't understand its necessity, nor can I believe in its timetable. As a highly experienced science teacher, I am not the least impressed, not the least, in its ad hoc content choices or hodgepodge piloting.

Plus, show me the money.

Anonymous said...

The Hale science department asks for a donation at the beginning of the year, around $20. They also ask that you to donate more to cover kids who can't pay anything. I always gave twice what they were asking. Do other high schools do this? This was the only department that asked for money.


Crap Ola said...

My student went through SPS's spiraling science curriculum in middle school. It was crap. Teachers didn't even have books. Materials were cobbled together. Now, for high school, science will be a spiraling curriculum, too.

Last check, the district was looking at cutting approximately $16M from the WSS formula. Where are the funds to support professional development, materials etc. With high schools scrambling to accommodate 24 credits- this is going to be interesting.

Other districts did NOT revamp entire science sequence. Math, in relation, to science is a concern, too.

suep. said...

(I posted this on the waivers thread, but this might be a better place for it. --sp.)

There are a number of problematic issues with the waivers list, and specifically the use of Amplify Science.

First off, the waivers list reveals that science curriculum waivers have been granted to 19 schools (including what looks like all the District's middle schools) and to all use the same curricular materials -- Amplify Science.

That amounts to a de facto curriculum adoption.

Yet, Amplify Science never came before the School Board for approval or even review.

Secondly, if Amplify Science is under consideration for the current Science curriculum adoption that is in progress, this gives the Amplify product and vendor an unfair advantage over other materials and vendors that may not have had the benefit of this waiver and de facto pilot process.

Rightly or wrongly, this looks like another end-run around the Board; an attempt to quietly bring in and embed a new product before the official adoption process (as prescribed by Board policy) has even been conducted, and to give one product an unfair advantage.

Another problematic element of this issue is that there have been many complaints about Amplify’s Science curriculum, last year when I was still on the Board, and since: Not enough hands-on experiential components, lack of engaging material, too reliant on impersonal online direction (rather than interaction with an actual teacher)-- adding up to a lost year in science for some students.

And then there’s the provenance of the product and its vendor. Originally owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Company, Amplify was sold in 2015 to a group of investors, and Joel Klein and Larry Berger. (https://newscorp.com/2015/09/30/news-corp-completes-sale-of-amplify-digital-education-businesses/ & https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/10/07/news-corp-sells-amplify-to-joel-klein.html)

When the product was first brought to the Seattle School District, it was an assessment -- Amplify mCLASS Beacon -- which was controversial and flawed. Various teachers and principals complained about it. Parents said that the test results were being kept from them. The district’s own survey revealed the mixed responses from school staff about the product. (https://www.seattleschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/District/Departments/School%20Board/14-15agendas/061715agenda/20150617_Amplify_Survey.pdf)

Another issue -- Amplify’s assessment product was first purchased by the District without Board approval. The price of the Amplify test just happened to be just under the $250,000 threshold required for Board approval. I believe it was something like $249,000 (I have a copy of the contract somewhere). Despite all the issues, staff sought to expand the use of the Amplify tests throughout the district. So about a year later, they were obligated to bring the contract renewal to the Board because the cost to expand it had surpassed the $250,000 mark. Based on the negative responses from schools, the Board voted it down.

That was the last time those of us on the Board had heard of Amplify until it was revealed to the Curriculum & Instruction Policy Committee in mid-2017 or so that it had re-emerged as a Science curriculum that was being used by nearly 20 schools via the waiver process. (Directors were duly alarmed by this belated news.)

This looks like an abuse of the waiver process, and intentionally or not, these actions come across an effort to bypass Board oversight (and policy) and public scrutiny.

Directors were right to be alarmed and demand oversight. The Superintendent should also step in and require her staff to follow policy. And this may impact the current science curriculum adoption.

-- Sue Peters

Anonymous said...

Does the new curriculum also impact high school IB and AP science courses?


Eric M said...

Some responses:

Anonymous re lab fees: Most (all) north-end high schools ask parents for these "lab fees". This had already been in place for some time, when I joined SPS in 2001. There are lab fee asks in some other classes besides science classes - photography, for example. I think the lab fee ask doesn't happen in most of the below-ship-canal high schools. Not sure that it ever did. Anybody? Those lab fees, at least at the two high schools I worked at, are one leg of a three legged stool that supports the materials-string, tape, rulers required to teach a legit science class. The second leg of the stool is PTSA (parent) fundraising, mostly from events, which supports a grant system for bigger ticket items like novel sets, instrument cases, and science probeware. The third leg is teachers' pockets. Most science teachers spend at least $1000 of their paychecks every school year to purchase materials for their classes to use. SPS supplied ZERO funding for science instructional materials at the 2 high schools I worked at over the last 15 years.

Anonymous re AP & IB: at least when this plan was presented a year ago as finished and non-negotiable, its effect on AP and IB and Biotech classes had not been seriously considered. (See my comments above about needing to reallocate many science teaching staff to teach mandatory 9th grade classes.) The one-size-fits-all standardization mentality beloved by bureaucrats as they streamline the widget machine doesn't really accommodate electives as a priority. The idea that different science programs would evolve over time at different schools, taking advantage of staff expertise and appealing to local school communities, is kind of anathema. Kind of morale crushing for staff - I know of a number of expert science teachers that have checked out of teaching science in SPS over this business. It's even realistic to look at all this standardization as an attempt to prepare SPS for the increasingly real situation where most science classes are taught by folks without science expertise, because it's become so hard to find science teachers. Interestingly, the grapevine informs me that when Lincoln High School opens, its science program will be exempt from all these constrictions.

Sue Peters: yeah, huh? There was a LOT of backpedaling from Curriculum & Instruction to the Board last year about WHAT this process was, exactly - almost Trumpian in its redefining of words for which we thought we knew the definitions. I note that most SPS science teachers, a year ago, were under the directive that they were going to teach ALL new curricula, in many new classes, starting in September 2018, but most of that curricula was not disseminated (let alone developed), and last school year ended with disorganization and a defacto non-directive to "keep on doing what you're doing". So, we're in essentially precisely the same place a year later, and most teachers have not seen any of this shiny new curriculum. I point out that any serious, expert teacher, expecting a complete overhaul of their classes, would benefit GREATLY by knowing what these changes are the year before, so they can begin preparing, gathering ideas, materials, experience, etc.

Plus, show me the money.

Anonymous said...

@Eric M I had been hearing for some time that secondary science teachers were hard to find, did not know if that was still the case. My child's friend just lost their Chemistry teacher at RHS mid-year and was wondering if they will be able to fill the position sooner rather than later. It is a shame as the friend said they have been watching movies with the sub since the teacher left. I also did hear about BHS losing a beloved science teacher over this situation and the effect on electives and Biotech. How could they not consider impact to IB and AP classes, biotech etc? It sounds like this work was done in a vacuum without thought to how it would function when implemented at each building level. Did planning include science reps plus principals from each high school? This is rediculous.

Grouchy Parent said...

Why is Mary Margaret Welch still in charge of this? Also, the board should require board approval for expenses above $200,000 or $150,000 instead of $250,000. What Sue Peters describes above is ridiculous.

Science teachers and kids matter too. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

@From all the...

I dislike how you've claimed the mantle of all science teachers in the district in your ad hominem attack on another teacher. I'm confident that most science teachers would like to have nothing to do with such behavior. It is not mature, it is not professional, and it is not acceptable.

You are also using a transparent straw man argument to denounce him, when he has stated and demonstrated commitment to a proper and transparent adoption process, which you would both have in common. As former Director Peters comments above, staff essentially bamboozled the district into adopting this "curriculum" without board review. Surely you are not in favor of an adoption process that bypasses board review, because you seem concerned about the kinds of equity issues that center most if not all of the board's actions. Surely you are not in favor of an expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars initially without any board review, money which could easily have been steered in better equity-promoting directions or curricular options. These are valid criticisms of the so-called adoption process, and attacking someone for raising these criticisms isn't constructive and does nothing to help kids.

Transparency Now

Anonymous said...

@ From all the, what is this “best practice” of which you speak? Is there good evidence that dismantling our old scope and sequence and trying to split apart and piece together sections of the old science materials is a sound approach, even if the curricula were outdated and the materials not always available? I seriously doubt that our cobbled-together solution has a strong evidence base. If this was done based on the idea that we’d eventually have new curricula that supported the re-ordering and spiraling, wouldn’t it have made more sense to wait until the new curricula were in place first—you know, to make sure the texts could be easily separated into pieces for teaching half one year then the other half two years later?

Also, can someone clarify the equity issue on this one? I thought we all had the same science curricula already? Low FRL schools seemed to have limited access to science texts as it was, so I don’t imagine there were access issues in that regard. Is the access issue that some schools had more science options (electives) than others? If so, is this essentially an effort to restrict variety by mandating the core classes? I read the Racial Equity Tool document MMW prepared, but it still was not clear. It basically says that science outcomes are different by race—but it does nothing to explain how/why a new curriculum will do anything to change that. It mostly just looks like fewer AP science classes will be needed. That’s too bad.

Updated texts are probably a good thing, but what are the measurable outcomes re: equity we hope to achieve via the scope/sequence change?


Melissa Westbrook said...

I deleted "Anonymous Science teachers and kids matter too. said..." because this person seemed unable to read the comment policy. Well, Muhs left so how is that selfish? It isn't. He gave his best, for decades, and was unable to continue with this kind of top down administration directive for his department.

But I will ask this from the commenter:

How do you know better than so many other teachers AND education research faculty AND science faculty AND scientists?"

Who are these people? Because I never read that the new science curriculum came from anyone but the head of Science for the district and her handpicked teachers. That's not reflective thinking.

"We have advanced degrees in science and education; we have kids who attend SPS schools; we are National Board certified; and unlike you, we work in diverse schools."

Beyond disrespectful and if you have such strong opinions - Teacher - then sign your name.

And speaking out against a curriculum means a teacher doesn't care about diverse populations? Huh?

Eric M said...

Well, I'm glad I didn't see that comment from "anonymous". But what I infer, the comment was a pretty good indicator of the level of hostility and venom this situation has uncorked. Glad I'm out from under the ultra-bad vibes.

Anonymous said...

I am suspicious of claims that Amplify will be a more equitable science curriculum. It is incredibly reliant on computers to teach. Schools with higher FRL populations are unlikely to have kids who will be able to access the on-line curriculum at home to study. And I am skeptical that they will have the resources to not just buy all the laptops necessary to do the curriculum in class, but also have access to the IT necessary for when there are inevitable connectivity problems.

I have said this before and will say it again - many strong school districts across the country allow applicants with PhDs to teach high school science, even if they do not have a teaching certificate. One of my best high school science teachers had a PhD in physics. Coming from a PhD program myself in UW, many of my classmates considered teaching high school once they got their degree and realized basic research wasn't a career path they wished to pursue. I think UW doctorate programs would be a fantastic resource for SPS if they were to consider waving the teaching certificate requirement.


Anonymous said...

NW -- Certification is state law (Chapter 28A.410 RCW), not district preference. The university could easily fold in certification classes with their program, with an extended program for the last year to include student teaching and portfolio prep.

Outta Seattle

Anonymous said...

@Outta Seattle-

I believe other WA districts have asked for and received waivers. One of my classmates taught at Vashon Island high school straight out of his PhD program.

This is also not an attempt to disparage any of the work of current high school science teachers in Seattle. It sounds like, from many of the comments on this blog, that there are many problems within SPS that could be addressed in an attempt to improve the retainage rate of current high-quality science teachers. But this is another possible fix to the problem.


Anonymous said...

From where I sit many youtube content creators provide better and more robust science lectures compared to the average Seattle public school teacher. You can access the content on $30 devices and a minimum bandwidth internet connection. Why not embrace the reality of how most people access information and with that learning new concepts.

On top of this is the 5G rollout in 2019 which gives you a hi-speed internet connection wherever there is a signal.


Anonymous said...


I have heard from multiple students that the online science curriculum created by Amplify is boring and repetitive. Parents tell me that science used to be their kids' favorite subject, until they were subjected to the Amplify curriculum. And that now their kids dread science class. If mimicking the success of YouTube stars was the intent of Amplify, it appears to be a failed experiment.

And, as anyone who spends time on their computer can tell you, internet connectivity is one of a host of problems that could stall access to the Amplify curriculum on any given day.

This is a failed pilot/adoption. When will the SPS science department admit to this?


Melissa Westbrook said...

Wakeup, seriously?

One, that "rollout" is still years off for most people.

Two, you clearly don't realize what teachers do. Anyone can talk in front of a camera. That's not learning about science.

Three, I'm on the Information Technology Advisory Committee and so I would love to see the funding for these so-called $30 devices.

Who do you work for?

Anonymous said...

Ok, so we're in the middle of a science adoption process, for all grades, and people keep talking about Amplify as if it is--or will be--the law of the land. Isn't the purpose of the adoption process to review the options and figure out what we want to adopt? Or has the adoption coordinator essentially designed things to ensure we end up with Amplify science going forward? I'm confused.

I'm also having a hard time finding anything that identifies which curricula are being considered... If the materials are supposed to be out for public viewing and comments soon, shouldn't there be a list somewhere?

Also, can someone please explain what this last part of the adoption timeline actually means, in English?

"The new instructional materials will be ready for implementation by the 2019-2020 school year. Implementation schools will be supported through professional development, which emphasizes the shift in pedagogy, three-dimensional teaching and learning strategies, and the execution of the science and engineering practices, in order to provide equitable opportunities for all students."

- If it's the official adoption and is supposed to promote equity, wouldn't all schools be "implementation schools"?

- What's the "shift in pedagogy"?

- What are "three-dimensional teaching and learning strategies"?

- What "science and engineering practices" will be executed?

- And how will the new curriculum/curricula "provide equitable opportunities for all students" when we don't even know the curriculum/curricula yet?


F. G. said...

Part of that appears to be lingo for taking the math out of science as much as possible so that all students will be equitably deprived of science that requires a lot of math and have equitable access to science that doesn't require much math. This way public school students who go to school in Seattle will be equitably deprived of the ability to complete math-heavy college degrees or get jobs for companies in Seattle that would prefer employees who can do a bunch of math.

It's an F-ed up version of equity. There should be a pathway for Seattle public school students who want hard-math science. Fighting the effects of poverty doesn't mean getting rid of challenging math for all students.

Anonymous said...

SPS already tried to take numeric computation out of math (Discovery math). Taking the math out of science is certainly to be expected. Now SPS parents will have to wage a decades long battle to overturn this poor curriculum decision as well.


Anonymous said...

Wow I didn't expect such a aggressive attack from a "community" blogger.

Yes, completely serious.

I think most people fully understand what teachers "do". The idea that students would not benefit from high quality instructional videos is pure non-sense.I hate to have your opinion on scientific lab software!

I don't see how running a blog qualifies you as an expert in technology or educational methodologies, especially base upon your response but maybe you have some other credentials I'm unaware of?

"Get a $30 Amazon Fire Tablet for Prime Day "

"Verizon 5g will cover 100% of Seattle metro area this year by Q3. Sprint/T-mobile might beat them."

Even if 5G is not available the 4G works just fine for youtube.

After having a teacher that could demonstrate potential energy vs kinetic energy by dropping a super ball but could not name or explain the principles, I certainly understand what some teachers can't "do".

I work for_____, well you know it as the company you think is responsible for all the educational failures here in Seattle.


Anonymous said...

Yes, of course this is supposed to be a community "rubber stamp" for a decision that was already made and partially implemented. If community engagement were wanted then the list of competing materials would be easily available for viewing. The meetings would not be on break when many families are out of town, and the comment and selection criteria would not be written as a forgone conclusion.

Did you read the rubric for grading the materials? It is all about giving points for having more online content and testing... because it is assumed that an online provider is what is wanted, or that it would be helpful.

It is not an open process. I am sure the reviews will be stacked with the right staff reviews. All of these community engagement exercises are "controlled" as best as tightly as possible.

Look at all the HCC/APP committees that have been flatly ignored. Look at all the community engagement meetings that have been flat-out presentations. The only hope is to lobby the board because these reviews will do nothing positive for students.

Any time we have an online curriculum it is really a way to funnel money out of schools and classrooms and into private pocketbooks. We have had financial scandals in the past and we will again and technology if rife for grift. Yes, maintaining so many computers and software upgrades and tech obsolesence destroys our budget. When that $30 fire is 3 year old it will not run the needed software. A textbook would still be perfectly educational. There are ongoing subscription fees for online courses, and the learning is always worse.

Take a look at the pass rates for students taking online classes at the city community colleges versus the in person classes. Most students drop or fail the online classes. It is not a practical solution for most students.

I'd rather have the 20 year old science books and a few more great science teachers anytime.

I thought that high-need subject instructors could get various credential waivers... is that not true?

I will say that the school that my child is assigned to had the Amplify science in the classroom. I was able to see students "working" in a science classroom during choice tours. They looked miserable and bored. They were reading printed handouts, that had to be copied at expense by the teacher because the computers/internet was down. Most were just goofing off. If they just had textbooks then no one would have had to print handouts. Amplify was a big reason why I decided to pull my kid out of SPS this year.

As for the comment about engineering... I think that is one of the new science standards to be adopted... to do more business proposals and product development type assignments.

Off Screen

NNE Mom said...

Did anyone go to the thing at the JSCEE today? What are the materials being considered?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Aggressive? I called out your comments and gave my opinion.

"The idea that students would not benefit from high quality instructional videos is pure non-sense."

I didn't say that. You did. I said a teacher was better. Don't put words/thoughts in people's writing that aren't there.

"I don't see how running a blog qualifies you as an expert in technology or educational methodologies, especially base upon your response but maybe you have some other credentials I'm unaware of?"

Hilarious coming from someone who doesn't sign their name so how do we know your credentials? Oh, but you work for the Gates Foundation so that explains it.

Want to talk in person? I'll be glad to sit down with you.

Unclear, you said this:

"I'm also having a hard time finding anything that identifies which curricula are being considered... If the materials are supposed to be out for public viewing and comments soon, shouldn't there be a list somewhere?"

I thought they were at the rather extensive K-12 Science Curriculum page but I see nothing. I'll ask because it is weird not to name the candidates to be considered.

Anonymous said...

It's a long leap from youtube videos to online classes. BTW, I have 10 year old machines that run browsers just fine.

I would recommend people slow down and read my comments thoroughly.

My point wasn't to point out my teachers lack of knowledge about physics but to demonstrate how she could have simply supplemented her teachings with very high quality free online physics lectures which god knows teachers do not have the time to create on there own.

The reality is most students do not finish college whether online or on campus and only 21% of high school students graduate from collage, yet it seems close to 100% of the effort of public schools is wrapped up in pushing students in attending collage, that's 79% failure rate.

So where is the disconnect?


Anonymous said...

Unclear :
These ideas are all from the Next Generation Standards themselves. I haven't read the SPS docs you pulled these from, but I've been working in my district to align curricula, so here's a brief overview of what the NGSS language intends to the best of my understanding. What Seattle intends I couldn't tell you.

- What's the "shift in pedagogy"?
This is discussed somewhere in the frameworks, but basically it's a shift from teacher-driven (lecture & notes) to student driven (inquiry sort of covers it). Concepts need to be integrated and applied, the end goal is really a performance expectation (students will build a model to show...), not just a regurgitation of some facts. Some PE's are stronger than others, and there are still quite a few "construct an explanation" pieces, but if you really want to hit the PE's it's more project based than in the past. Here's a sample PE that shows how the three-dimensions fit in. I find the clarification and boundary statements more helpful than the PE itself most of the time. https://ngss.nsta.org/DisplayStandard.aspx?view=pe&id=187

- What are "three-dimensional teaching and learning strategies"?
scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas
SEP's are linked below, cross cutting concepts can be searched on the same site but they are basically the ideas that are found in all disciplines -- patterns, cause-effect, energy, etc. DCI's are what we would generally call the content or the standard -- the axial tilt of the earth is responsible for seasons.

- What "science and engineering practices" will be executed?
https://ngss.nsta.org/PracticesFull.aspx Not all practices are appropriate at all levels or all lessons, but they do show up in the performance expectations.

NGSS scales SEPs and CCCs pretty well, leaving the more concrete (patterns, models) for elementary and the more abstract (mathematical thinking, scale and proportion) to the upper levels.

Outta Seattle

Anonymous said...

@ Outta Seattle, thanks for the info and link.

I still don’t see how these promote equity, though.

It also occurs to me that a more online-based curriculum likely decreases equity. Not only because different students, teachers, parents, and schools have differing levels of tech access and abilities, but also because online learning does not work well for all. There are many types of learners, and plopping them all down in front of screens will likely leave some of the neediest behind.

As for the YouTube argument, of course there are some good videos out there. There are also some really bad—and really wrong—ones. If you can’t count on a teacher to know the info theirself, how can you expect them to pick a factually correct video? And really, who could bear it if the answer to “what’s your science curriculum?” was “YouTube!”? Ugh. Then again, if the alternative is Amplify...


Melissa Westbrook said...

The reality is most students do not finish college whether online or on campus and only 21% of high school students graduate from collage, yet it seems close to 100% of the effort of public schools is wrapped up in pushing students in attending collage, that's 79% failure rate."

What does this have to do with the science curriculum except that some students want as high a level as they can take to get into college?

Outta Seattle, thank you for that information but it should have been at the district's webpage. This is something I will be pointing out to the Board.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Oh and WakeUp, if this is the best kind of response I can get from the Gates Foundation, uh, no thanks.

There's the door.

Anonymous said...

F.G. has it 100% right.
--Wakeup, it is spelled "college."
Rick Burke is board lead for C&I.
11 years in SPS has shown me that this district is better at providing less, not more. For equity sake.
-Long Road

Anonymous said...

O-Lord we have a spelling Nazi.


Anonymous said...

So school board directors don't like Amplify.
Many teachers don't like Amplify.
Many students are bored by Amplify.
Many parents are horrified by Amplify.

In order to get it implemented, SPS science admin have bypassed the board by granting waivers to schools, uninvited teachers that express concern about the curriculum from training sessions and told teachers that their dissenting opinion is not welcome, and remained unresponsive to parents.

How is Amplify still a thing? How do these people still have jobs? Is there anything else that can be done to stop this?


Anonymous said...

Where is the evidence for the claims of lack of support for Amplify?

A few disgruntled posters on a blog?

We cannot continue to let nostalgia be a guide for the future. We have new technology that is spectacular for education. In addition we have a shortage of qualified and willing science teachers. Amplify allows us to do more while offering some ballast against an unpredictable teaching reservoir. In addition moving away from a hierarchical view of how science is taught and structured will increase equity.

Much of the resistance to Amplify is by those who don’t want to expand opportunity to all by offering a less rigidly structured class progression. It’s the same mindset that decried and continue to decry Honors for All etc.

Institutional memory

Melissa Westbrook said...

Institutional Memory, no, it's not a "few disgruntled posters." I am out in the community enough to hear it from parents and teachers first-hand. I'm on the ITAC group, talking about whether there will be enough money and space to expand to this kind of learning in every school. I'm not sure the evidence is there that Amplify is better and would support this kind of spending.

I agree that we have a shortage of teachers but you have to then ask yourself why. Again, why would you be a teacher when you read this:

"From where I sit many youtube content creators provide better and more robust science lectures compared to the average Seattle public school teacher."

Of course that's from someone who works at the Gates Foundation and we know how much they know about public education.

And maybe when people complain about teachers getting raises, again, who would be a teacher especially in STEM?

There is nothing nostalgic about believing in human teaching over machines. Technology without a heartbeat is nothing but a cold machine.

As for your bringing in HCC, give it rest.

Anonymous said...

And when logical supporting arguments for Amplify fail, by all means, resort to gaslighting your critics. If one cannot justify a science curriculum using sound, logical, factual arguments, perhaps one should not be involved with choosing a science curriculum.



Anonymous said...

I never referenced HC (I do not recognize the cohort). You jumped to that conclusion. Why?

Institutional memory

Melissa Westbrook said...

I jumped to that conclusion because of the "Honors for All" which is directly related to HCC and you know that. Yes, NW, why go after critics. Funny thing, Arne Duncan just said something like this in a recent article about technology and teaching. Hmm.

Outsider said...

In an earlier discussion of Amplify, I floated the theory that lack of qualified teachers was at least part of the motive. That was immediately shot down by the Amplify disciple on duty that day, but whoa ... here we are on a different day with a different Amplifier confirming it in plain language. Interesting to note.

As with so many of these discussions, two separate issues get pushed together and confused:
1) dumbing down and re-sequencing the science curriculum in the name of equity
2) use of a particular computer-based commercial product

Those are distinct decisions. The Amplifier on duty today is trying hard to make them seem like the same thing, which suggests a certain dishonesty. But then, who expects anything honest from anyone with an ideological or commercial interest in the school system? A lot of money is at stake.

Amplify seems like a joint venture between a corporation trying to make money and equity educators who favor one-size-for-all approaches to schooling. That is a tough team to fight in Seattle, so I am guessing the battle is lost. Like some others here, I have heard gossip that parental feedback is pro forma, and the decision is already made.

Anonymous said...

I am actually hopeful after reading some of the attacks made by the pro Amplify crowd today. Why resort to such emotional, irrational arguements unless a glimpse of failure on the horizon is making you desperate?


Anonymous said...

Ps: I am not certain the equity crowd is strongly behind this. I heard rumors that the higher need middle schools that have been piloting this program have not seen any increase in their 8th grade sbac scores. In fact they may be decreasing I would love some data to analyze to see if this is true.


Anonymous said...

It's difficult buying into the idea that Amplify and the what sounds like watered down science curriculum will somehow increase and expand opportunity. Similar arguments were made for Discovery Math. How has that worked out? If anything, it increased disparities as those with means figured out they needed to supplement, go to Kumon, hire tutors or even part-time homeschool in order to get a sound math education. Many other students just ended up further behind.

The biggest shift in science instruction has been from “learning about” to “figuring out” where students work through a series of connected lessons anchored in explaining a compelling science phenomenon.

Is it an either/or? You can learn facts, build knowledge, AND incorporate activities and explorations.

highly skeptical

Anonymous said...

It kind of sounds like the goal is to turn "science" teachers into babysitters who watch while their students do online lessons that move slowly enough for everyone to keep up. That sounds, to some extent, like what's happened with the high school scope and sequence changes, too--making 9th grade science a combined version of physics+chemistry that are simple and don't required advanced math, so they are more accessible to all.

Why does SPS always work backwards? They should start with changes at the early grades, and let the impacts gradually flow from there. If Amplify (or whatever approach/curriculum/scope/sequence/etc.) works well, the content in future years can easily--and naturally--be made more challenging. If it doesn't and students aren't ready for more or aren't doing as well in future years, we'll know our earlier approach didn't work. It seems crazy to change things up in high school, when the disparities are already set. You don't eliminate disparities at that point--you just mask them by lowering the ceiling.

Typical SPS

Outsider said...

If you haven't done it, it's well worth following the link in the original post, and reading the SPS racial equity analysis of the new science curriculum. It's the closest I have seen to admitting that they are pursuing equity by dropping the ceiling. They obviously realize that if computer-based science was an optional resource, some schools or teachers would not choose it. They also clearly realize that a good, qualified human teacher is better than a computer-based curriculum. There is a long passage about how the computer-based approach must be made mandatory for all schools so students won't be behind if they change schools. That can only make sense if they know the computer based approach is inferior, and students stuck with it would fall behind. If the Amplify curriculum was great and really worked for disadvantaged students, there would be no cause to worry about them falling behind.

The issues are quite different among elementary, middle, and high schools. The equity analysis notes that science teaching is minimal in many classrooms at low SES elementary schools. Having Amplify as an optional resource for those teachers certainly couldn't hurt. Probably a lot of over-stretched elementary teachers would be happy not to have to prepare science lessons, and just flip on the video instead. At the middle and high school levels, it gets more complicated.

School bureaucrats really are facing a tough problem. It would be no problem in principle to create an honors track in even the toughest middle school so a segment of motivated students with an interest in science could get the same instruction as the best school anywhere. But that's no longer allowed. One size for all is mandatory at the school level also, creating an acute problem for delivery of science instruction at low SES middle schools. The number of good, qualified science teachers who can also manage a mixed classroom at a tough middle school in the discipline-lite era is small, much too small to staff all the classrooms. So they will need computers to take a big part of the load. No real choice there. But there is a lot of suspicion, including among the bureaucrats themselves, that computer-based instruction is inferior to what the rich kids are getting from their live teachers at the high SES school. So all students must be confined to the computers to achieve equity.

If Amplify was optional for schools, fine. Let it prove itself, and if it works, schools will adopt it. The imperative to make it mandatory for every school and student appears to give away the game.

Anonymous said...

The purpose of Amplify is to make science teaching and learning interactive. More like real life learning than the less engaging models of the past. It doesn’t dispense with the teacher, it just facilitates the classroom differently, making use of the technologies we now have to enhance learning. A good teacher is an adaptive teacher, adaptive to different students, curricula, materials and technologies.

Fossilizing the classroom is impossible and foolish. There’s a lot of destructive social practice embedded in the old methodologies and structures. We should also be advocating for equity rather than disparaging efforts to increase it.

Institutional memory

Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment of a good teacher, IM. And equally, a good curriculum is responsive and adaptive to different students. Unfortunately, Amplify is a scripted, canned curriculum that does not allow for any variation from its day-to-day instruction. Every day the lesson is prescribed, despite the how well or poorly the children understood the previous day's instruction. Amplify allows little space for a teacher to review difficult concepts or speed through concepts that have been mastered.


Anonymous said...

Absolute conceptual mastery is not initially required by Amplify as it is a spiraling curriculum and concepts are reintroduced, reapplied and remastered continuously. It’s not an absolute linear progression, hence why the lesson sequences proceed as they do. I don’t think online materials are any more scripted and canned than a textbook or a science kit from central office. A passionate and effective teacher makes the material their own in the way they engage the students around it. But it’s a help to have modern contemporary curriculum that reflects the world the students live in and how they engage with it, rather than relying on decades old sources and teaching practices that could be more effective.

Institutional memory

Anonymous said...

..."it is a spiraling curriculum and concepts are reintroduced, reapplied and remastered continuously."

No wonder kids are bored. Learning the same thing over and over doesn't do much for the motivation.

And unless the online materials have a lot of extensions, they probably ARE more scripted and canned than a textbook, because teachers generally only use a fraction of the textbook--allowing motivated students to dig in further. Many online curricula have set units, and when you're done with that day's lesson you are simply done. That's why kids report finishing early and just sitting there, or working on homework from other classes. At least if you had a textbook in front of you you could keep learning science.

There's a lot that could be done to make teaching practices more effective, but it doesn't necessarily mean we need Amplify. Or even an online-intensive curriculum. One of the big potential benefits of computer-based instruction is the ability for students to move at their own pace--but this doesn't do this. Rather, this slows the quick kids down. Online curricula also don't work well for kids who need more human interaction.

@ Institutional Memory, can you point us to information that indicates students who grasp scientific concepts easily won't be slowed down by this approach? What kind of opportunities does Amplify include for kids to move quickly, for differentiation, etc. Are there preassessments for each unit, and if so, can kids test out of units and skip ahead?


Anonymous said...

Amplify, like all forms of online learning, is massively inequitable. By offering poor quality instruction to kids of color, it ensures they will never catch up to their fellow students who have access to actual science education, taught by real teachers. It locks them into a low-performing track and excludes them from a high quality curriculum.

Second, and this should be obvious, by removing the role of the teacher it helps reinforce the lack of people of color teaching students, modeling leadership, and serving as role models for young kids of color.

Third, there's a mountain of evidence that online curriculum turns kids off of learning, makes them hate school, and just repeats the historic cycle of treating kids of color as second-class.

I am not surprised that the snake-oil salesmen who peddle online learning products are trying to make an equity based argument, but I am hopeful that nobody with any sense or any real commitment to equity or racial justice actually buys this malicious nonsense. Amplify must be removed from our science classrooms and it needs to happen now.


Anonymous said...

The teacher is empowered by Amplify by having access to more current experiencally based materials, which emphasize understanding and application, over memorization and regurgitation. It should engage all students more, including those students historically excluded from those higher learning tracts you reference.

Having students use Amplify throughout the district is great for equity because students will be able to join, transfer, re-enter and pick up where they left off, without any learning penalty. Again this is a win for all students, but particularly for those most impacted by poverty which often results in greater relocation rates.

Spiraling is not repetition. It is introduction, discovery, exploration, application.

Where have all the crocodile tears been for those students of color absent from our current higher level science classes over the years? Exactly nowhere. But now that we’re looking to level the playing field, the concerns about science teaching and children of color, is an issue.

Institutional memory

Anonymous said...

You're looking to "level the playing field" by giving everyone an equally shitty education. Parents have already reported that Amplify is not producing any of the results that you claim exist, and that's because those kinds of experiences cannot be delivered by watching a screen. They require a teacher. The goal here is to eliminate the teacher. So yeah, go right ahead and throw out all those teachers of color, fire them, replace them with a screen and a curriculum that enriches a bunch of white dudes while leaving kids of color worse off than ever before. Just don't you dare call it equity and don't you dare call it justice.


Anonymous said...

Nice language for a physicist

Institutional memory

Anonymous said...

Surely you're joking that Amplify is anything other than a low quality curriculum that students hate, which has been adopted to enrich a few private corporations while making science teachers expendable.

Anonymous said...

(Previous anon comment is from Feynman)

Anonymous said...


Seems like you are more concerned with the effects of Amplify on teachers who can’t adapt or contemporise than the experiences of students in their classrooms.

Science has been poorly taught for eons. It is very personality determined right now and we have a shortage of teachers. We have to address these issues. Amplify offers some practical responses to these issues in addition to aligning with new standards etc. The canard that teachers are being replaced is false. Also your claim that students hate it is unsubstantiated.

We currently have a dearth of teachers of color in all disciplines. Perhaps people of color don’t want to teach in schools where academic discrimination is practiced. Removing that discrimination, as in removing academic barriers to all curricula, may encourage greater diversity in out teaching bodies.

Institutional memory

Anonymous said...

I.M. Have you actually sat down with a student to work through Amplify? I encourage you to do so. I have, and it is many times bewildering, even for me with a Masters degree in health sciences. Many of the questions and problem are confusing. It is a very poorly written and often times boring program (click this with this and see what happens-whee!). I believe for most students the best learning is in context and real life scenarios (lab experiments). Kids are so habituated to screens many have learned just to click through, we are leaving tactile learners behind too.

My other beef with SPS is the huge push towards all “discovery” science without explicit instruction and all willy nilky open-ended questions. There are a variety of learning styles that SPS is leaving behind, confused, and unengaged. Our concrete thinkers for instance.

NW Parent

Anonymous said...

And please don't start again with the baseless "science has been poorly taught for eons." The US produces more PhDs in science then any other country in the world. The US was the first country to send a man on the moon. The US is currently leading the world in AI research. Science has always been taught well in the US. Don't blame the teachers for Amplify.


Anonymous said...

And I would like to say Amplify was an interesting experiment. But as any scientist will tell you, all experiments produce results that need to be analyzed before conclusions can be reached.

Amplify has been piloted at many SPS schools now. Have you performed a comprehensive survey of opinions of the students? Teachers? What are the results? Have you compared test results to previous years? What are the results?

From what I hear, the results are very damning. And if you are truly interested in doing what is best for SPS schools, prove it by analyzing results rather than regurgitating the selling points.


Anonymous said...

Anyone else offended by IM's suggestion that science somehow has to be brought down to be accessible or to attract teachers of color?? What does it mean that "[it?] is very personality driven right now?"


kellie said...

SPS has a long history of cherrypicking when it comes to initiatives like this.

Anyone remember Everyday Math? Everyday Math had a proven track record of closing the achievement gap under certain "implementation guidelines." I once saw this in action and it was very impressive. The guidelines were ONE Teacher and TWO assistants. With that ratio, any curriculum would have closed gaps. But SPS purchased the materials and never allocated any staffing resources.

The Everett Miracle. Everett had a huge transformation in their schools by focusing on attendance. They focused on this by adding extra adults to work with students with chronic absences to find out why they were missing school and then do something about this. SPS adopted Everett's approach by implementing the "Be here, Get there" program where anyone who misses more than 10 days of school gets letters and phone calls to remind them that attendance matters. Once again, same idea. Zero extra staffing.

Once again we are having the same conversation but this time with Science.

The committee that worked on the "Alignment to the new standards" was impressed with how a spiraling curriculum can close gaps because the nature of spiraling curriculum means that it is POSSIBLE for students who are behind for some reason to catch up.

That is not new information. Students who are behind for any reason need an opportunity to catch up. That is the basic math of equity. Identifying students who need something extra and then providing that something extra.

The problem is that a spiraling curriculum may create ways for some student with a skilled teacher to catch up. But this same curriculum makes it challenging for students who are already at grade level of ahead of grade level to achieve the necessary mastery to move ahead.

This curriculum is a bad idea, because the nature of high school is about differentiation. Spiraling curriculum works great to close gaps in elementary school. But it fails miserably at high school, because high school is the time to focus on mastery of core subjects.

Anonymous said...

As a parent I fully support the teachers who are critical of this new curriculum that the SPS board did not approve. It sounds terrible for many kids and suspiciously correlated with money related corporate influenced motives. Also, thank you BHS and other teachers for speaking out against this BS.

NW mom

Anonymous said...

How could I have forgotten that America (supposedly) sent a man to the moon? That sentimental journey is currently chronicled in First Man, a traisp through the familiar world of astronaut training and death. Yes, some of those lab experiments failed too.

As for those science Ph.d’s. According to the NSF, between 2007 and 2015, up to 40% of those granted science Ph.d’s in America were non Americans. In other words they received their secondary education in other countries so American eminence in science education is not quite what has been referenced.

If a self described Masters in Health Science grad finds Amplify difficult, surely that puts to rest the idea that it is not a challenging curriculum and that it requires real thought and engagement. The open ended nature of the enquiries allows students to pursue matters personally and with depth.

Concern over lack of labs is not warranted as the majority of students are currently doing very few labs. They are time consuming to set up and disassemble, necessitate strict safety protocols and consume budgets.

Institutional memory

Anonymous said...

IM- Using insults to mask your lack of actual supporting data again? Until you can provide actual numbers to prove that this is anything except a failed experiment, I am done engaging with your fearmongering and selling points.


Anonymous said...

Foreign students flock to the US to earn their Ph.D.s because of the high standard of science education and research in the US not because it is inferior. By adopting this curriculum to save costs and de-professionalize science teachers, the SPS is doing everything in its power to insure that local students from the district, those without the financial resources to access private school programs, are at a disadvantage in competing for University slots.


Melissa Westbrook said...

IM, you clearly are/think you are a person in the know. The rest of us have no idea how you know what you think is best but apparently we are to take your (condescending) word for it.

I'm not buying it. And that equity talk? How useful for your point of view and yet Amplify will do less for kids who really need better science education. Also, I don't like your tone. You might want to consider checking it or I will do it for you.

But let's break down what has been said by some:

"The equity analysis notes that science teaching is minimal in many classrooms at low SES elementary schools. Having Amplify as an optional resource for those teachers certainly couldn't hurt. Probably a lot of over-stretched elementary teachers would be happy not to have to prepare science lessons, and just flip on the video instead. At the middle and high school levels, it gets more complicated."

Outsider said this. Sure, let's have more resources but it cannot be the sole source of science teaching. And, let's ask the question - why would the equity analysis show low science teaching. Is that not the domain of the district and the principal? If that's true, that's on them to correct but not by putting kids in front of computer.

It doesn’t dispense with the teacher, it just facilitates the classroom differently, making use of the technologies we now have to enhance learning. A good teacher is an adaptive teacher, adaptive to different students, curricula, materials and technologies."

Readers, see that word "facilitates?" Yeah, because the goal is to get fewer certificated teachers (saves money and weakens the union) and more "facilitates" who are just people who walk around and keep the kids on task. That's not teaching.

And that snide "a good teacher"? Unpleasant swipe.

"It should engage all students more, including those students historically excluded from those higher learning tracts you reference."

No one has been excluded. You can keep saying it but that won't make it true. Fewer kids of color don't enroll in higher level classes for many reasons but it's not because the school/district excluded them.

"Where have all the crocodile tears been for those students of color absent from our current higher level science classes over the years? Exactly nowhere. But now that we’re looking to level the playing field, the concerns about science teaching and children of color, is an issue."

First of all, "crocodile tears" are false tears - I think you meant something else. I, for one, have advocated for better for kids of color in these classrooms but watering down the curriculum is not the way to do it. And, since you are such a champion, perhaps you'll tell us who you are.

"It is very personality determined right now and we have a shortage of teachers."

Again, there are many reasons and the Amplify curriculum is probably one of them. That and being called a facilitator instead of a teacher. I have no idea what "personality determined" means.

NW said:

"The US was the first country to send a man on the moon."

To which I add "and back." To the moon and back. Yes, that's some shitty science teaching.

Amplify is not science "teaching." It's just lessons on a computer. That's not teaching. And science, of all subjects, should be hands on. Hands on a keyboard is not science.

UW Professor, you are quite correct. My late husband, also a UW professor, said the same thing.

I'll give this thread until the end of the day and then close it as it is getting circular.

To note, I wrote the Board several emails recently and one of them was about this subject. I would suggest that you do the same - spsdirectors@seattleschools.org

Anonymous said...

According to IM: "Concern over lack of labs is not warranted as the majority of students are currently doing very few labs. They are time consuming to set up and disassemble, necessitate strict safety protocols and consume budgets."

IM, are you for real? By that logic, we just shouldn't bother. With anything. Just.too.hard.

Our kids HAVE had hands on science activities, from elementary (remember the district kits?) to high school. Ramps and balls. Worms. Rockets. Seeds. I can't imagine a science curriculum based largely on screen activities, nor can I understand how one can think it's an improvement.


Anonymous said...

@ IM, for that matter, why even bother to teach them science at all? They can just look something up if they need to know if later. (Or they can just rely on their gut feelings and ignore the science, as some politicians do, right?)

For that matter, why bother with education at all. We can just teach them how to type and how to Google. Then they can watch videos for the rest.

I think I see a scary sci-fi movie in here somewhere, with people just hooked up to machines all day, "learning"...

scary face

Anonymous said...

After reading science curriculum reviews from other school districts, I noticed Amplify was often chosen to be piloted and/or as the final curriculum choice for the handful of districts I reviewed. It’s easy to see why as teachers raved about the excellent phenomena, alignment to the standards, and embedded assessments. Overall, students enjoyed not having to read (audio component), the simulations and using an internet-based program vs. books or worksheets.

However, Amplify’s huge – and, to me, deal breaking - flaw is focusing on simulations rather than hands-on activities.

Hands-on inquiry is at the heart of NGSS best practices for high-quality science learning in the classroom.

Although there were numerous positive review comments about Amplify, there were concerns that emerged most notably around the lack of hands-on activities and, in some cases, rigor:

“Students found the Amplify packets to be tedious and repetitive.” - Bellevue SD elementary

“It could have more hands-on and inquiry based activities. “ - Beaverton SD

“Not hands-on enough; very literacy based”. - Beaverton SD

“Good curriculum for Gen Ed, but not for SPED”. - Beaverton SD

“Many unit phenomena are not locally relevant”. - Beaverton SD

In pilot test comparison, Amplify was significantly weaker in supporting advanced learners vs. a competitor, but significantly more supportive of struggling and ESL students. - Bellevue SD Middle

“I am worried that Amplify is too tech heavy and does not offer enough "hands-on equipment" experiences. Middle school kids LOVE lab equipment. They love labs! I want my kids and all kids to know how to handle beakers, fire, test tubes, etc. The real stuff...not probes and apps.“ - Bellevue SD Middle Parent quote

“…some areas of Amplify lacked rigor and questions that asked students to think deeply about the science content”. - Edmonds SD

The other striking realization for me is how clearly the SPS science adoption focus and process differs from other districts. The most prominent and intensive document on the SPS science adoption page is the Racial Equity Tool results. The meeting notes are extra lean, and, stunningly, the list of materials under consideration is nowhere to be found.

On all the other district’s sciences adoption pages, there is absolute transparency, a rigorous assessment of curriculum against the NGSS standards with consideration of bias and cultural relevancy included as one of many components, but not the main course as in SPS.

To me this science adoption process, even more so than AL, is the bellwether for how SPS’s interpretation of racial equity impacts academic excellence.

Is the focus on increasing rigor for all or lowering standards for most?






Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks NN, I'll be sending your thoughts along to the Board. They need to hear this.