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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

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February 17, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Interest grows in new model for school discipline and youth justice

Monae Trevino, second from left, is embraced by a fellow student during a restorative justice meeting at Big Picture High School in Burien. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times.

Monae Trevino, second from left, is embraced by a fellow student during a restorative justice meeting at Big Picture High School in Burien. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times.

The paper hanging inside a second-floor classroom at Garfield High School spoke more pointedly than a raft of research articles about student frustration with traditional approaches to school discipline.

Under the question, “Why are you here?” 16 teens willing to devote weeks to getting trained as restorative justice mediators offered their answers:

“Healing harms,” one student said. “Unequal treatment,” added another. “Injustice toward students.”

School discipline in Seattle is so lopsided — with black students suspended at five times the rate of whites — that the federal Office for Civil Rights is investigating. But educators, parents and students, impatient with the slow pace of an inquiry that has been ongoing since 2012, are moving ahead with a solution known as restorative justice, which aims to repair harm, rather than focus solely on punishment.

“Everybody agrees that the system we have is not working,” said Garfield Principal Ted Howard. “We can’t afford to suspend kids for 10 days — do they ever catch up? I’ll tell you, it was a bitter pill for me, as a black man, to look at the data.”

In the past month, the urgency for a better answer has echoed up to the highest levels of King County government. King County Council member Larry Gossett said: “The jury is still out on how well restorative justice projects will lower suspensions and expulsions in our schools. But this holds some solid promise. And I am going to be one of those pushing for it more.”


Comments | More in News | Topics: restorative justice, school discipline

February 9, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Slow down: Math prof says timed testing can harm skills

Photo by Andrew Laker / AP

Photo by Andrew Laker / AP

Memorizing multiplication tables may be a seminal school experience, among the few that kids today share with their grandparents. But a Stanford University professor says rapid-fire math drills are also the reason so many children fear and despise the subject.

Moreover, the traditional approach to math instruction — memorization, timed testing and the pressure to speedily arrive at answers — may actually damage advanced-level skills by undermining the development of a deeper understanding about the ways numbers work.

“There is a common and damaging misconception in mathematics — the idea that strong math students are fast math students,” says Jo Boaler, who teaches math education at the California university and has authored a new paper, “Fluency Without Fear.”

In fact, many mathematicians are not speedy calculators, Boaler says. Laurent Schwartz, the French mathematician whose work is considered key to the theory of partial differential equations, wrote that as a student he often felt stupid because he was among the slowest math-thinkers in class.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Lakeridge Elementary, math instruction

February 5, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Seattle teachers want district to outline new discipline approach

Loren Demeroutis (right), principal of Big Picture High School in Burien, speaks to students during a group discussion about drug use as part of the restorative justice process. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times.

Loren Demeroutis (right), principal of Big Picture High School in Burien, speaks to students during a group discussion about drug use as part of the restorative justice process. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times.

While federal investigators continue to pore through discipline data in Seattle schools, concerned about a pattern of punishing minority students at higher rates than whites, many of the district’s teachers say there’s no need to wait for a formal verdict. They know there’s a problem, and they want to move ahead with a solution that could address it.

Jonathan Knapp, president of the Seattle Education Association, said the union plans to hammer out a proposal this month, urging the school district to consider restorative justice as a new model for student discipline.

“I sense not just a willingness, but an eagerness to get to it,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Restorative justice, as described in an Education Lab story last month, treats misbehavior as harm done to a relationship and focuses on repairing it, rather than simply suspending students. Teachers who have used this approach in other cities, like Denver and San Francisco, say it can make a huge difference in classroom dynamics.


Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, restorative justice, Seattle Education Association

February 2, 2015 at 5:00 AM

For dropouts, free program offers route back toward HS diploma

Inside Federal Way's brand new Acceleration Academy. Photo courtesy FWPS

Inside Federal Way’s brand new Acceleration Academy. Photo courtesy FWPS

Eight hundred former Federal Way students who never earned their high school diplomas should expect a phone call from the school district. Or perhaps a knock on the door.

All are eligible for a free program to get them back on track toward earning a high school credential, and the district is in search mode.

“We’re out there canvassing, knocking on doors, hanging up fliers at malls, making phone calls,” said Ron Mayberry, who oversees Federal Way’s new Acceleration Academy. “We’ll be able to take whatever kids walk through the door.”

The program, which opens Monday, is modeled on iGrad, a successful effort in nearby Kent that has helped dozens of dropouts earn high school diplomas and GED certificates in the past two years.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Acceleration Academy, dropouts, Federal Way Public Schools

January 28, 2015 at 5:00 AM

End-of-course biology exam may go, but tougher standards loom

Corrected version

As Washington schools begin integrating rigorous Common Core standards into their classrooms, the state Board of Education has made several decisions about new tests tied to those standards, and what will happen to existing state exams.

First: They want to abolish the current end-of-course exam in biology, generally taken by 10th graders.

The thinking here is that focusing on biology undermines broader coursework in science-technology-engineering-and-math (the so-called STEM courses). The board voted unanimously on this decision, but it requires approval from the state Legislature — which is pretty busy with other things, like school funding. Sorry, Class of 2015, most likely you’ll still have to pass that test to graduate.

Looking ahead: Passing scores on the much-feared Smarter Balanced Assessment — the new tests based on Common Core standards — have been set.

But those exams, which will be given statewide for the first time this spring, won’t affect graduation — not this year.  The board will determine graduation cut-off scores in August, and those will affect the Class of 2019, this fall’s incoming ninth graders. Initially, the graduation bar will be lower than the passing score, giving teachers and students time to ramp up.


Comments | More in News | Topics: biology end-of-course, common core, State Board of Education

January 25, 2015 at 7:28 AM

Sunday story: Discipline approach stresses intervention over suspension

2025538486After a decade in classrooms, cheering on young people and believing in their progress, David Levine’s faith finally wilted. Three of his top students had walked into the front office at Big Picture High School reeking of marijuana at the precise moment that a donor stopped by with a $1,000 grant for new sound equipment.

Years ago, Levine might have recommended suspension for each young woman. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time, went his general thinking, right in line with prevailing American beliefs.

But discipline at Big Picture in the Highline School District has changed. In the process, its teachers have, too.

Rule breaking is now treated as harm done to a relationship — in this case, that between Levine and his students — rather than a reason to mete out punishment.

Go here for the full story.


Comments | More in News

January 22, 2015 at 5:00 AM

U.S. schools: Glass half full or draining fast? Actually, both

The Iceberg Effect in U.S. schools. Screen shot from the Superintendents Roundtable report.

The Iceberg Effect in U.S. schools. Screen shot from the Superintendents Roundtable report.

Americans have grown accustomed to the conventional wisdom that says our students, as a whole, don’t rank on the international stage — not as science-savvy, driven or literate as those in other developed countries.

But a coalition of school district superintendents say this belief seriously misinterprets the evidence. Considering the widespread poverty, violence, income inequality and other social stressors that U.S. kids negotiate en route to Graduation Day, the National Superintendents Roundtable says we actually perform amazingly well.

“We are insisting that a single number does not do justice to the complexity of any educational system, and particularly not to the U.S. system,” said James Harvey, executive director of the Roundtable. An Irish national, Harvey emigrated to America as a teenager, and said he likely would have dropped out of school were it not for the “second-chance” U.S. system.

On Tuesday, his Seattle-based group, composed of 100 chief educators from around the country, released “School Performance in Context: The Iceberg Effect,” a report ranking America against Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Finland and China on a series of metrics key to school outcomes. They go far beyond the usual test-score horse race.


Comments | More in News | Topics: school outcomes

January 13, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Want more kids in college? Check school counselor caseloads

College Advising Corps adviser Jennifer Alcaraz helps Marcus Jackson through the complicated college application process at De Anza High School in El Sobrante, Calif. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2014.

College Advising Corps adviser Jennifer Alcaraz helps Marcus Jackson through the complicated college application process at De Anza High School in El Sobrante, Calif. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2014.

The job of high school guidance counselor is a catch-all: Part graduation-credits overseer, testing administrator, shrink and higher-education shepherd. Seem like too much to do well? New research agrees.

So while President Obama talks about getting more students into community college, and Washington state does its part with College Bound Scholarships, the people actually tasked with guiding kids in this direction — high school counselors — are spread much too thin. The result: Many states essentially expect students to “just figure it out,” says the Education Commission of the States, a think tank tracking education policy.

But that is not happening.

Data presented by the Education Commission shows that high school counselors’ time, attitudes and priorities make a huge difference in whether kids actually enroll in college. Among schools with high college-going rates, counselors spend the majority of their time on this, and say that their number one goal is helping students attain a postsecondary education.


Comments | More in News | Topics: college counseling, guidance counselors

January 6, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Contrary to popular belief, tossing ‘bad’ kids harms ‘good’ ones, too

Paul Tong / Op Art

Paul Tong / Op Art

Traditionally, the thinking around school discipline has proceeded along these lines: Suspend a disruptive kid and, though that student may suffer academically, the rest of the class benefits.

But two Midwestern researchers have a new study suggesting that this thinking may be flawed. They tracked a Kentucky school district over three years and found that high levels of exclusionary discipline – that is, suspensions — actually harmed math and reading scores for all kids, even those who were never tossed.

Consider the context: School discipline practices nationally are both more invasive and more punitive than ever, with suspension rates doubling since the 1970s. (In 2010, more than 3 million children across the country were removed from class.) But there has been little research to test the academic rationale for this approach.


Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline

December 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

It’s possible to love science and math. Hoosier ‘Leads the Way’

Bertram pic

Vince Bertram visiting with high school students in rural Indiana in 2011. Courtesy photo.

Acronyms are the bane of the education writer. Attempt to dissect test scores and you find yourself untangling definitions for NAEP, EOC and MSP. Try to discuss science, technology, math or engineering and you must first stumble through the obstacle course called STEM.

No doubt, this dissuades readers, too, which is a problem because those four subjects have become so daunting to Americans that our very economy is threatened. That’s a point central to a new book by former school superintendent Vince Bertram, and one that riles anyone who sees education as a zero-sum game: Nurture one area of study and you necessarily starve another.

Bertram sees no need for such a siloed approach. What if we explained to students who dream of becoming NBA stars or millionaire musicians that rappers use technology to mix their singles, that athletes need engineering for better sneakers?

Essentially, this is the concept behind Project Lead the Way, a national nonprofit that aims to boost science and tech in public schools, particularly those that educate low-income students. The program’s real-world approach attracted dozens of kids at Toppenish High School to advanced math, as noted in this Education Lab piece from last spring.


Comments | More in News | Topics: STEM, Toppenish, Vince Bertram

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