Top high school starts at 9:15 am

At the best high school in the U.S., according to U.S. Newsrankings, the school day starts at 9:15 a.m. writes Lisa Lewis on Slate. The School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas earned the top spot for the fifth year in a row.

School start times have a “proven impact” on student performance, writes Lewis.

Eight hours a night may be the goal for adults, but teens need between 8.5–9.5 hours, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Unfortunately, few teens meet that minimum: Studies show that two out of three high school students get less than eight hours of sleep, with high school seniors averaging less than seven hours.

Sure, kids could go to bed earlier. But their bodies are set against them: Puberty makes it hard for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. When combined with too-early start times, the result is sleep deprivation.

The AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  recommend that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later. Less than 20 percent start that late. The average is 8:03 a.m., writes Lewis, whose son’s high school starts the day at  7:30 a.m.

In the fall, all Seattle high schools and most middle schools will start at 8:45 a.m. Most elementary schools, four K-8 schools and one middle school will start at 7:55 a.m., and the remaining elementary and K-8 schools will begin at 9:35 a.m.

Some parents don’t like late start times at elementary schools. It must be hard on working parents.


Strike closes Seattle schools — except for charters

A teacher strike kept Seattle schools closed on the first day of school yesterday, reports AP. However, Seattle charter schools remained open, despite a state Supreme Court ruling denying state funding.

In addition to more money — Seattle teachers have gone six years without a cost-of-living raise — teachers want changes in testing and discipline policies and more preparation time,  said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association.

Second grade student Abigail Knodel walks with her mother, Gloria Fernandez, past a striking teacher in front of Abigail's West Seattle Elementary School and toward a nearby all-day camp. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Second-grader Abigail Knodel walks with her mother, Gloria Fernandez, past a striking teacher in front of Abigail’s West Seattle Elementary School.  Photo: Elaine Thompson, AP

Teachers earn $44,000 to $86,000, depending on experience and advanced degrees, according to the district.

Charter leaders are seeking private donations to keep the state’s nine charter schools open for the school year, reports the Seattle Times.

Late last week, the Washington Supreme Court ruled the state’s charter law is unconstitutional because charters don’t have elected school boards.

Pro-charter legislators could put a constitutional amendment authorizing charter schools on the November 2016 ballot. That would require a two-thirds’ majority vote in both the state House and Senate.

What’s a rhombus? Ask a 4-year-old

Cheryle Chewning leads a discussion about shapes with her pre-K class at P.S. 93 in New York City. Photo: Steve Remich, Wall Street Journal

Some preschools are teaching math, reports John Higgins in the Seattle Times.

On a recent morning in South Seattle, Kristin Alfonzo challenged her preschoolers to make the number 7 using beads strung across two rows of pipe cleaners. One 5-year-old boy slid four beads across the top and three across the bottom. Another did the reverse, and one kid pushed all seven on one row. “I see many different ways of making 7!” Alfonzo said over the ruckus of kids counting out loud.

Research shows students who start out behind in math rarely catch up, writes Higgins. Seattle educators hope introducing math in preschool — in a playful way — will prepare children to be successful in elementary school.

Statewide, only 53 percent of children arrive in kindergarten with basic math skills. At South Shore PreK-8, where almost two-thirds of students live in lower-income families, 95 percent learn entry-level math skills in pre-kindergarten.

Boston’s city-run preschools use the play-based Building Blocks math  curriculum, which includes geometry.

In a game called “feely box,” the teacher puts a thin foam shape in a box with holes on two sides.

“It has four L [right] angles and four sides,” said Hoang-Son, a boy at Everett Elementary, as he cupped his hand around a rhombus.

“Can you tell us anything else about the sides?” asked his teacher, Sara Gardner.

“All the sides are the same length,” he said.

Someone guessed correctly that it was a square, but Gardner pushed for more, until Hoang-Son confirmed that the equal sides meant it was a rhombus, too.

I learned what a “rhombus” was in seventh grade.

New York City will spend $6 million to roll out Building Blocks in free preschool classes, reports the Wall Street Journal. Preschools will be given “books, related games and seven days of training, plus coaching.”

At P.S. 93 in the Bronx, teacher Gabriela Yildirim “held up a moose puppet named Mr. Mix-up and challenged him to look at several shapes to find one with two parallel lines.” After the moose picked a triangle, the children corrected him. “A trapezoid!” they said.

Yes, trapezoids came up in seventh grade for me.

Still, early learning may not stick. A 2011 study of Building Blocks found “very few differences at the end of kindergarten, and virtually none at the end of first grade.” Researchers speculated that children’s preschool math gains vanished because “primary grade curricula and teachers do not build” on what they’d learned.

Seattle colleges will drop ‘community’

Three Seattle community colleges will drop “community” from their names to attract more students. All three now offer some bachelor’s degreed in vocational fields.

Teachers refuse to give ‘useless’ tests

Teachers at a Seattle high school are refusing to give a district-mandated exam, saying it’s a waste of time, reports NPR. Measures of Academic Progress is given up to three times a year from kindergarten through at least ninth grade, in addition to state exams.

Garfield High’s academic dean, Kris McBride, MAP doesn’t seem to align with district or state curricula. Teachers can’t see the test, so they don’t know why their students did well or poorly. (MAP adapts to students’ performance levels, giving easier or harder questions depending on how well they do, so there is no one exam for all students.)

Portfolios of students’ work could replace MAP, writes teacher Jesse Hagopian in a Seattle Times op-ed.

Seattle’s ninth- and 10th-grade students already take five state-required standardized tests . . . Seattle Public Schools staff admitted to a Garfield teacher the MAP test is not valid at the high-school level, because the margin of error is greater than expected gains.

. . . Students don’t take the MAP seriously because they know their scores don’t factor into their grades or graduation status. They approach it less seriously each time they take it, so their scores decline. Our district uses MAP scores in teacher evaluations, even though the MAP company recommends against using it to evaluate teacher effectiveness and it’s not mandated in our union contract.

Eleven teachers at ORCA K-8, a Seattle alternative school, have joined the boycott.

More than 60 educators and researchers have signed a statement supporting the test boycott, including Jonathan Kozol, Diane Ravitch and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

Immigrant blacks outperform natives

Africans outperform African-Americans in Seattle schools: Even the children of destitute Somali refugees do better.

The district compared blacks who speak English at home with those who speak other languages at home but aren’t considered English Language Learners.

Amharic-speaking students from Ethiopia scored the highest, nearly reaching the district average in reading. Somalis did worse than other African immigrants, but much better than English-only blacks.

• Only 36 percent of black students who speak English at home passed their grade’s math test, while 47 percent of Somali-speaking students passed. Other black ethnic groups did even better, although still lower than the district average of 70 percent.

• In reading, 56 percent of black students who speak English passed, while 67 percent of Somali-speaking students passed. Again, other black ethnic groups did better, though still lower than the district average of 78 percent.

Black immigrants attend college at a much higher rate than U.S.-born blacks or whites, concluded a John Hopkins study in 2009. The immigrants were educated, successful people in their home countries, researchers said.

However, that’s not true of the very poor Somalis who found refuge in Seattle.

Seattle School Board member Betty Patu, who has worked for decades with community groups serving students of color, said she has noticed that all immigrant families, regardless of socioeconomic status, place high value on education.

“Their motivation is different,” she said. “When you leave your country, you come here to do something. You don’t come here just to sit around and do nothing.”

In short, it’s the culture, stupid.

However, Marty McLaren, a board member and former teacher, blames “a culture of low expectations . . .  dating back to the days of slavery” for American blacks’ poor performance. Faced with institutionalized racism, students give up, she said.



Seattle college tires of ‘Occupy’ campers

“Occupy Seattle” campers have worn out their welcome at a downtown community college. Crowding, poor sanitation, sexual harassment and doing drugs in sight of the child-care center — kids are being kept inside for play time — are problems, say college officials as they look for a legal basis for eviction.

Also on Community College Spotlight: A new California plan will make community college students choose an academic or vocational path, but it won’t work without improving counseling.

‘Spring spheres’ at Seattle school

A teen-age volunteer was allowed to give candy-filled “spring spheres” to third graders at a Seattle elementary school. 

When I took them out of the bag, the teacher said, ‘Oh look, spring spheres’ and all the kids were like ‘Wow, Easter eggs.’ So they knew,” Jessica said.

The city’s parks department is sponsoring Easter-free Spring Egg Hunts.

2+2 = litigation

Judges shouldn’t pick math curricula, writes Joshua Dunn, a University of Colorado political science professor, in the fall issue of Education Next.

In February 2010, a state judge overturned the Seattle school board’s decision to use the “Discovering” math curriculum. The adoption had prompted a lawsuit by a retired math teacher, a professor of atmospheric science and the mother of a high school student.

The plaintiffs argued that the curriculum would widen rather than narrow Seattle’s achievement gap between minority and white children. One of the plaintiffs, Professor Cliff Mass, wrote in his blog, “Seattle Public Schools picked high school math books that are not only bad for everyone, but they are PARTICULARLY bad for the disadvantaged who don’t have extra cash for tutoring or whose parents don’t have the time or backgrounds to help their kids.”

In February 2010, Judge Julie Spector agreed with the plaintiffs in a terse three-page opinion devoid of any analysis. She simply asserted that the district behaved arbitrarily and capriciously and that there was “insufficient evidence for any reasonable member of the board to approve the selection of the Discovering Series.”

The curriculum may be faddish and foolish, Dunn writes, but the judge was “arbitrary and capricious” in substituting her judgment for that of the school board.

While the Seattle school district is appealing Judge Spector’s decision, parents have filed suit to get the Issaquah school district to drop the Discovering series. Bellevue, another district with well-to-do and well-organized parents, faces a possible lawsuit over Discovering.

Parents revolt against math fads

In Skydiving without Parachutes on Education News, Barry Garelick of World Class Math answers the question about a Seattle court case: “What’s a court doing making a decision on math textbooks and curriculum?”

In fact, the court did not rule on the textbook or curriculum. Rather, it ruled on the school board’s process of decision making — more accurately, the lack thereof. The court ordered the school board to revisit the decision.

King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector ruled that the Seattle school board’s decision-making process was “arbitrary and capricious,” ignoring key evidence, such as the state board of education’s finding that the discovery math series was “mathematically unsound.”


Parents are tired of seeing school board ignore the evidence that faddish math programs don’t work, Garelick writes.

They have suffered through Investigations in Number, Data and Space with its homework assignments asking students to show three ways to add 343 + 267 and draw pictures to illustrate what is going on. They have suffered through the ill-sequenced spiraling of Everyday Math, with fractions one day, geometry the next and the alternative (and inefficient) algorithms for multiplication and division. They have seen the ill-posed and open-ended problems for which their children have not been given prior instruction and who are asked to develop “strategies” for their solution. They have asked their kids to see the textbook to be told there is no textbook; only worksheets, and no worked examples.

Parents are tired of being forced to tutor their children at home or enroll them in Sylvan, Huntington or Kumon centers to learn what’s not being taught at school, Garelick writes. Parents who are scientists, mathematicians, engineers and teachers “understand the necessity of a solid foundation that is in a logical sequence which then builds upon itself.” They’re not going to accept math fads any more.

Update: Seattle Times columnist Bruce Ramsey looks at the district’s only school to use  Singapore Math.  The PTA pays for the books and for an extra math teacher, Sabrina Kovacs-Storlie. The district’s approved program, Everyday Math, is “teaching to exposure,” she says. “We are teaching to mastery.”