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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

December 23, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Homeless students: More each year and younger than you think

Homeless kids aren’t only in big cities. Map courtesy CLS.

You could see them every day and never know it. They might be sitting next to your son in math class, or singing alongside your daughter in the holiday pageant.

An estimated 30,600 kids in Washington’s public schools — or about one child per classroom — do not have a stable place to sleep when they leave each day, according to data released last week by Columbia Legal Services. And because of the stigma involved, many more homeless youth might not let anyone know.

“I never talked to an adult when I was homeless,” said Trai Williams, who spent 10 years on the streets, starting at age 13, and now does outreach through the Mockingbird Society Youth Network.

Williams reflects one of the more troubling aspects of this research: the majority of homeless students are under 14, and overall their numbers are growing. Between 2006-07 and 2012-13, the total population of homeless kids nearly doubled in Washington. Part of the increase was due to the recession, researchers suggest, the rest to more accurate counting.

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December 16, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Using discipline to help kids feel better about school, not worse

Nicholas Bradford, founder, Restorative Justice Center of the Northwest

Nicholas Bradford, founder of the Restorative Justice Center of the Northwest. Courtesy photo.

Schools nationwide are facing the hard-to-refute fact that using suspension to discipline students doesn’t do much to improve their behavior — and may make it worse.

But what if there was a way to nudge kids who disrupt classrooms or bully peers to atone for those violations by confronting them?

What if the atonement itself actually strengthened the relationship between students and their schools?

Nicholas Bradford, a member of the Coast Guard Reserve, says such a technique exists, and it’s called Restorative Justice. Maybe that sounds a bit kumbaya, but the approach has been used successfully in tough Oakland schools and in some prisons.

Bradford spoke with Education Lab about this practice, and its implications for students here.

Q: What exactly is Restorative Justice, and why do you think it’s a smart way to approach school discipline?

A: It’s an approach to conflict that holds a youth accountable for harm, while simultaneously building relationships. The usual way — suspending kids — just pushes them out and further damages the relationship between student and teacher.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, Nicholas Bradford, race

December 9, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Student discipline has results, and that’s the problem

At Mill Creek Middle School in Kent, Assistant Principal Regina Hauptmann, left, works with a student in the Focus Room during a recent school day.  The Kent School District is looking at how they discipline students and seeking alternatives to suspending them.  Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

At Mill Creek Middle School in Kent, Assistant Principal Regina Hauptmann, left, works with a student during a recent school day. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Cacophony is not too strong a word for the collective response to coverage of school discipline.

Readers of our Sunday story on efforts in Kent to rethink student suspensions ranged from blaming parents, to blaming teachers, to blaming the media. But the point of such inquiries — whether they appear in a newspaper or emanate from a think tank — is not to assign fault. It’s to open a discussion. It’s a search for answers.

With this in mind, one study mentioned in the story warrants greater emphasis because it shows that punitive discipline often has serious, detrimental repercussions for students.

In “Breaking Schools’ Rules,” researchers with the Council of State Governments tracked nearly 1 million Texas kids for six years, from seventh through 12th grade, trying to find out what happens to those who get suspended.

Their findings:

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Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, suspensions

December 6, 2014 at 8:10 PM

Sunday story: Kent schools take fresh approach to student discipline

At Mill Creek Middle School in Kent, school-safety officer Bobby Fuller patrols the hallways during a class break. Such officers in Kent now act as mediators rather than just security guards. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

At Mill Creek Middle School in Kent, school-safety officer Bobby Fuller patrols the hallways during a class break. Such officers in Kent now act as mediators rather than just security guards. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

The fight began over a girl. Or online insults. Or because high school is a bubbling caldron of energies that can overflow at any provocation, without regard to rules. And those rules were clear: No violence.

Chris Valmonte learned this the day he was surrounded in the cafeteria at Kentridge High School, threw a punch to ward off his attackers and wound up suspended. Two years later, when his sister was jumped during dismissal, she remembered Chris’ punishment, refused to push back and ended up with a concussion, her budding athletic career dashed.

“What should I do if something like that happens to me?” the Valmontes’ younger brother, David, then an eighth-grader, asked his mother. “What are kids supposed to do if they’re attacked?”

Mary Valmonte did not know how to answer. She brought her son’s question to the Kent School Board. They couldn’t answer, either.

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November 26, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Skin in the Game, 5: Teacher meetings aren’t only for the kids

I don’t know what I expected — an inquisition about my parenting style? The discovery that my 5-year-old was a secret sociopath? A misfit genius? Whatever I imagined this bogeyman to be, my first parent-teacher conference was nothing close.

Instead, we adults sat on tiny-person chairs around a miniature table, looking over evidence of my son’s 12-week evolution. I saw his handwriting on the first day of kindergarten, and how it had changed three months later. (Still no “finger-spaces” between his words.) I saw what he could sight-read in September, how he’d tripled that by November, and where on the reading-assessment levels he now rates. (Pretty well, though he still stumbles when trying to read the word “read.”)

Kelly Shea / The Seattle Times

Kelly Shea / The Seattle Times

I pictured this veteran teacher, sitting all day in those itty-bitty chairs, doing the same show-and-tell exercise for two dozen other families, and realized how much an elementary educator’s job involves teaching parents the processes of public school.

It’s visible, the mark this bureaucracy leaves on a 5 year old. On the first day of class, all the kids looked vaguely perplexed at having to sit in fixed seats or at assigned spots on the carpet. That’s gone. You can see it in their faces. They’ve toughened a bit, figured out that they’re being funneled into a much bigger system, and that it has rules.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: parenting, Skin in the game

November 21, 2014 at 1:05 PM

White House officials to hear from Native students on Monday

The federal Department of Education will visit Seattle next week to hear from Native American students, their families and educators about ways to better meet the academic needs of Native American youth.

The listening tour had been planned for earlier this month by the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, but was abruptly cancelled out of respect for grieving families after the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting, in which four students were fatally shot, and another injured, before gunman Jaylen Fryberg turned the weapon on himself. Fryberg was a member of the Tulalip Tribes.

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