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.”

Judge rejects Seattle's 'discovery' math

Seattle’s adoption of a “discovery” math curriculum was ruled “arbitrary and capricious” by a King County Superior Court judge, who ordered the district to reconsider.

The district probably will appeal.

The plaintiffs “argued that the curriculum would do harm, not good by widening the achievement gap between middle-class and underprivileged students,” reports the Seattle Press-Intelligencer.

In her ruling, (Judge Julie) Spector noted that the state’s Board of Education had declared the curriculum “mathematically unsound” and that the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction did not recommend the curriculum.

And she said WASL scores from a similar inquiry-based math at Cleveland and Garfield High Schools showed that test scores declined and dropped significantly for students who were learning English, including a 0 percent pass rate at one school.

The Discovering Math books are supposed to help teachers reach students with different abilities by having students work together to solve problems.

Discovery math is “dumbed down” for equity reasons, writes plaintiff Cliff Mass, a metereologist and University of Washington atmospheric science professor, on his blog. Seattle Public Schools has been using discovery math in elementary, middle and high school, he writes.

“Direct instruction” — that is the teacher telling the students the best approach — is frowned on, calculators are brought in very early in elementary schools, group learning is pushed, and students are encouraged to play with objects (manipulatives).

Seattle students do poorly on the state’s math exam with a huge achievement gap based on income and race.

Seattle: Is D- good enough to graduate?

Seattle’s school board may delay a decision to let students graduate with a D average. Currently, students need a C — with a lot of exceptions. The board also wants to let D students compete on sports teams.

At the same time, the board vows to raise standards.

While parents and community leaders oppose the move, reports the Seattle Times, “most high-school principals and counselors support the changes, saying the C-average policy hurts students who can’t catch up if, for any number of reasons, they have a bad year or arrive in high school performing well below grade level.”

Yet in Federal Way — one of just a few nearby school districts that also require at least a C-minus for graduation and to participate in sports — the change hasn’t led to big problems. Superintendent Tom Murphy said he was skeptical at first and still worries that change might cause grade inflation. But overall, he says, it seems to have a positive impact, especially for athletes.

“It has shown kids that they can meet higher standards when they really want to and when they have to.”

When the C-average requirement went into effect in Seattle in 2001. one-fourth of students were at risk of not graduating. The district stopped counting F’s in calculating grade-point averages, and offered waivers to D students. Last year, the district went back to averaging in failing grades — but not for seniors who might not graduate.