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

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September 18, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Americans back teacher ‘bar’ exam, divided on school change

The question of how best to train, and evaluate, teachers has become a proverbial third rail in the politics of education.

Should their pay be linked to students’ academic performance? Their own advanced-level studies? Or to time on the job?

Answers to these questions have tended to electrify school-watchers of every political stripe. But Wednesday, Gallup released a new poll that shows a surprising degree of unanimity: 81 percent of respondents — Democrats, Republicans, Independents and public school parents  say they favor a national certification exam for teachers, similar to that required for doctors and lawyers.

(Such a standard  the National Board Certification — already exists, though it is voluntary and only 3 percent of teachers actually take it, Gallup reports.)

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Gallop poll

September 15, 2014 at 5:00 AM

‘Compassion’ sounds soft but demands action, new website says

It’s easy enough to say you value compassion in schools, but quite another thing to actively practice it.

Monday marks the launch of a new social-networking website created by Seattle educators to boost this important but oft-overlooked trait by providing parents, teachers and administrators with tools for building more compassion into their schools.

“People’s emotional states really affect the way their lives turn out, and their personalities are being shaped in school,” said longtime fifth-grade teacher Peter Hubbard, who works at Lawton Elementary in Seattle. “So we need to be deliberate about how we’re developing children. Social isolation is definitely an issue. The kids who are stronger psychologically survive and go into war mode  they’re just toughing it out. But it’s still a pretty alienating experience.”

Enter the Compassionate Schools Network, a website where users can interact with one another around specific topics (similar to Facebook). The site also features a resource-sharing center focused on five areas: community service, mindfulness, re-imagining education, environmental stewardship and social-and-emotional growth.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Compassionate Schools, Scarlett Lewis

September 11, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Kids with poor attendance score lower on national tests

Students who don’t show up in class are likely to do worse in school than their peers. That stands to reason, but now there’s hard data to back this common-sense assertion.

Last week, researchers from Attendance Works in Maryland released a study correlating national test results with student absenteeism in each state. Their findings? Washington has slightly worse attendance rates than the national average, and the more days students miss, the lower their scores in reading and math.

National results.  A score of 208 in fourth-grade reading is considered "basic." At 238, students are rated "proficient." In math, the basic rate is 214, and proficient is 249. Courtesy: Attendance Works

National results. A score of 208 in fourth-grade reading is considered “basic.” At 238, students are rated “proficient.” In math, the basic rate is 214, and proficient is 249. Graph courtesy Attendance Works.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: attendance, Attendance Works, NAEP

September 8, 2014 at 11:50 AM

In-school parent volunteers will aim far beyond bake sales

Logan Square parent mentor Mayra Guzman helps second-grade student Jeremiah Castro with reading at Avondale Elementary School in Chicago. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

Logan Square parent mentor Mayra Guzman helps second-grade student Jeremiah Castro with reading at Avondale Elementary School in Chicago. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

Two Seattle schools will get a boost this fall from a corps of parents inspired by a long-running Chicago program that has improved student outcomes  particularly around motivation.

In 2013, Education Lab spotlighted a parent mentor program in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago that has, in its 20-year history, recruited, trained and vaulted nearly 2,000 low-income parent volunteers into Chicago classrooms.

Many say the program has been life-changing  both for them and their children. Some have gone on to become certified teachers.

A Seattle group called Community & Parents for Public Schools, which has long admired the Logan Square effort, recently won two grants totaling $65,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates and Satterberg Foundations. The money will cover training and stipends of $500-$600 for an initial group of 20 volunteers, said Stephanie Alter Jones, executive director of the group, who hopes to stretch the money over two years.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Logan Square, parent engagement

September 5, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Fantasy football in the classroom can reap real-life gains in math

Excited children show their Seahawks spirit during an assembly last January at Kimball Elementary School. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times.

Excited children show their Seahawks spirit during an assembly last January at Kimball Elementary School in Seattle. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times.

Finding students a bit sluggish on this, just the third day of school in many Seattle-area districts? Could it be that they were up late, watching the Seahawks season-opener against Green Bay? Football may leave you cold, but consider the volcano of statistics, the numerical slicing and dicing used to predict outcomes. All of it is built on math.

Fantasy football? Even more so.

For the uninitiated, the game works like this: You pick an assortment of real-life players for various positions on your imaginary team  quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, for example  then rack up points based on the players’ actual performance on game day.

Yes, it’s pretend-play for grownups. But teachers find that fantasy football can energize students who are otherwise less-than-motivated by traditional math. Even the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has suggestions for incorporating football into lesson plans (baseball and basketball, too).

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Comments | More in News | Topics: fantasy football, math, Seahawks

September 4, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Skin in the Game, IV: Opening Day, for school and mom

Credit: West Seattle Blog. A capacity crowd of parents gathered for the opening of Fairmount Park Elementary School

Photo courtesy West Seattle Blog. A capacity crowd of parents gathered for the opening of Fairmount Park Elementary School

Everyone expects crying on the first day of kindergarten  from the parents, mainly. But I saw not a single tear during opening day at Fairmount Park Elementary on Wednesday. Despite the dirge of bad-news stories about American education, the feeling inside this bright, airy, refurbished and reopened West Seattle school was, overwhelmingly, hope.

The place is so shiny-new that an American flag hanging in the library still had its fresh-from-the-box creases. The math workbooks were yet to arrive.

But a new school does not mean newbie staff. Seattle Public Schools made the savvy decision to install veteran principal Julie Breidenbach at the helm  evidence of the increasing recognition around the role of school leaders in student success — and she, in turn, led a trail of former colleagues to Fairmount Park.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Fairmount Park Elementary, Julie Breidenbach, Skin in the game

August 27, 2014 at 9:59 AM

Today’s story: Seattle’s Garfield High wants hazing to be history

A group of Garfield High upperclassmen cracks up Monday after performing during their training at the school. Garfield is hosting the Link Crew leadership training course before the start of school next week. Photo by Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times.

A group of Garfield High upperclassmen cracks up Monday after performing during their training at the school. Garfield is hosting the Link Crew leadership training course before the start of school next week. Photo by Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times.

As an eager, if nervous, ninth-grader, Anya Meleshuk allowed several older girls to blindfold her one afternoon, put her in a car and drive her to a park where she was told to “propose” to a stranger. Later, dressed in fairy wings, she downed a dozen flavors of ice cream while her friends watched, and went home afterward feeling as if she had been accepted, initiated into Garfield High School, where such “froshing” has a storied history.

Many alumni cherish similar memories and were outraged last fall when Principal Ted Howard, long an opponent of this tradition, showed up unannounced at a Homecoming Weekend event to quell what would become Garfield’s moment of hazing infamy.

Go here for the full story.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Garfield, hazing, Seattle Public Schools

August 26, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Support staff growth modest here, while nationally it explodes

National growth in education staffing and enrollment, 1970–2010 Credit: Thomas B. Fordham Institute

While public school enrollment in Washington has surged by more than 23 percent since 1990, the state still employs roughly the same number of school support staff as it did a generation ago, making us either admirably lean or in dire need of more classroom aides – depending on your perspective.

The information comes via a national report released by education reformers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute which finds that, nationally, school staffing has exploded since 1950, climbing by more than 400 percent.

Since 1970, the biggest driver of this growth has been teacher aides, who went from being virtually non-existent in classrooms during the 1970s to the largest category of employees other than teachers. Much of the increase is likely due to federal laws mandating equal education for handicapped kids and bilingual students, which resulted in many more paraprofesisonals working with children.

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Comments | Topics: Fordham Institute, school spending, teacher aides

August 21, 2014 at 5:00 AM

It ain’t flashy but it works: Get personal and schools improve

Becka Gross, right, walks with student Taylor Trimming to class earlier this week at Denny Middle School in West Seattle. Gross belongs to a group called City Year, which works in designated middle schools to encourage better attendance and tutor students. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

City year tutor Becka Gross, right, walks with student Taylor Trimming to class at Denny Middle School in West Seattle. City Year is a nonprofit that works in designated middle schools to encourage better attendance and tutor students. The program was featured in an Education Lab story last fall. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

In the search for answers to problems in education, the go-to phrase employed by everyone, on all sides, is this: There are no magic bullets. Well, there might be one, but it’s squishy-sounding, labor-intensive and difficult to measure.

In every full-length Education Lab story we reported over the past year — each demonstrating clear gains in public schools — one constant echoes: the power of relationships.

Schools that are turning the corner point to this over and over, a focus on forging solid, sustained, one-on-one relationships — primarily between teachers and students.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: ed reform, relationships

August 20, 2014 at 5:00 AM

More minorities aim for college, but academic preparation lags

ACT graf

Results from Washington students who took the ACT. In 2014, the total was about 14,000. Credit: ACT

First, the good news: In just four years, the number of Hispanic students taking the ACT college entrance exam in Washington state has nearly doubled, suggesting that significantly more minority youth here aim to pursue higher education. And overall, Washington students scored two points higher than the national average on the country’s most widely administered college-readiness test.

Yet in other areas, the results, released Wednesday, underscored a series of troubling trends:

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Comments | More in News | Topics: ACT test, college readiness

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