Follow us:

Education Lab Blog

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

Author archives

You are currently viewing all posts written by John Higgins.

September 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Later high-school start times: How 70 districts have done it

Mounting scientific evidence shows that chronic sleep loss compromises teenagers’ learning, health and safety, prompting the American Academy of Pediatrics last month to recommend that middle and high schools start class no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Yet changing bell times has proven so logistically and politically complicated that only about 70 school districts around the country have figured out a way to do it.

Donna Grethen / Op Art

Donna Grethen / Op Art

In July, Seattle’s school board waded into those waters, directing the district’s staff to begin a 15-month study to change school starting times. The district is now accepting applications to participate in a year-long task force on that will include district staff, parents, students and community experts. The deadline to apply is Oct. 6.

To appreciate the magnitude of the work involved, Seattle and other interested school districts should check out what’s been going on in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, the 11th-largest school district in the country.

Fairfax has been trying to change bell times for more than a decade. The latest push was launched in April, 2012, when the Fairfax board set a goal of having no high school begin before 8 a.m. The board may finally be approaching the finish line with a plan up for a vote on Oct. 23.

To develop its plan, Fairfax hired Children’s National Medical Center’s Division of Sleep Medicine, which published a report in April that examined how the 70 school districts that changed bell times got it done.


Comments | More in News | Topics: school start times, Seattle Public Schools, Teen sleep

September 26, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Leading researchers to speak on neuroscience, learning disabilities

Most experts in brain science and education warn that the distance between the laboratory and the classroom is too vast for scientists to tell teachers how to do their jobs.

But that doesn’t mean neuroscience has nothing to contribute to education.

For example, neuroscientists and educators are working together to better understand biologically-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

They hope to find ways to diagnose those problems sooner and adjust teaching to eliminate or at least soften their impact.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Dyslexia, learning disabilities, neuroscience

September 24, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Number of homeless schoolchildren rising

The number of homeless children  in Washington’s public schools rose 12 percent between the school years ending in 2012 and 2013.

The total climbed to 30,609 students, exceeding the total enrollment of Tacoma’s school system, the state’s second largest district.

National data released this week by the U.S. Department of Education show an 8 percent increase for the same period, reaching a total of about 1.2 million children without a regular place to sleep at night.

Washington state education officials can’t say why Washington increased more than the nation (34 states and the District of Columbia report yearly figures) as a whole, but many factors contribute to homelessness, including changes in the availability of affordable housing, job opportunities and local social services.


Comments | More in News | Topics: homelessness, McKinney-Vento

September 16, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Google flash-funds ‘Ukuleles Unite!,’ other teacher projects

Amanda Burke (left), a kindergarten teacher at Highland Park Elementary in Seattle, was one of several local teachers surprised by Google on Monday. Photo courtesy Google.

Amanda Burke (left), a kindergarten teacher at Highland Park Elementary in Seattle, was one of several local teachers surprised by Google on Monday. Photo courtesy Google.

Music teacher Yvonne Berz got her wish Monday: a classroom set of ukuleles for her students at Springbrook Elementary School in the Kent School District.

It was one of 388 projects that Google fully funded or topped off on Monday in a “flash funding” campaign for teachers in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

For Berz, Google added to 16 other donors who contributed to her proposal, titled Ukuleles Unite!” though the nonprofit crowd-sourcing website,, where teachers can seek funding for specific learning projects.

Google’s $338,000 donation helped teachers buy supplies ranging from books, laptops and Legos to yoga mats, acoustic guitars and a digital microscope.

A kindergarten teacher at Highland Park Elementary School in Seattle, for example, asked for four HP Chromebook laptop computers and a Microsoft Surface tablet. A teacher at Lowell Elementary School in Everett asked for mapmaking supplies.

Google has sponsored other DonorsChoose “flash funding” campaigns in recent months in San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Austin, Kansas City and Los Angeles.


Comments | More in News | Topics:, Google

September 10, 2014 at 5:00 AM

National Merit Scholarship semifinalists named

Lakeside School in Seattle once again topped the list of area semifinalists named Wednesday in the National Merit Scholarship program, with 33 students. Bellevue’s Interlake High School has 29 semifinalists, and Garfield High School in Seattle has 11.

They are among some 16,000 high-school students across the country eligible to compete for about 7,600 merit scholarships worth about $33 million that will be offered next spring.

This is the 60th annual competition. The semifinalists, who represent less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors, received the highest scores in their states on the PSAT.  The number of semifinalists in each state is proportional to the state’s share of the national total of graduating seniors.

Local semifinalists and their schools after the jump:


Comments | More in News | Topics: National Merit Scholarship Program

September 3, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Survey: Only 30 percent of principals must prove leadership to get hired

Aspiring K-12 principals in Washington state typically interview with lots of people  the superintendent, principals, teachers, students and parents.

But few applicants are asked to demonstrate their leadership before they get the job, according to a survey of Washington superintendents and principals published last month.

Taking a “walkthrough” of a school is one way applicants can show potential employers their ability to observe classroom instruction, evaluate what they see and offer teachers constructive ideas for improvement.

Although 65 percent of principals in the survey said walkthroughs could help them show their leadership potential, only about 30 percent reported doing a walkthrough before they were hired, according to the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a think tank affiliated with the University of Washington – Bothell.

The report suggests that districts require all finalist candidates do a walkthrough or some other “performance task” to give employers more information than they can glean from interviews and written statements alone. In Denver, for example, all candidates conduct a “learning walk” and then create a teacher training plan for the school.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Center for Reinventing Public Education, Principal evaluation

September 2, 2014 at 12:41 PM

Seattle’s special-ed mess: Who’s in charge of what?

Hodan Mohammed, center, of Open Doors for Multicultural Families, joins Fadil Abubakar, 19, left, and Rahma Ali, 18, for a photo at NewHolly Youth and Family Center in June. Mohammed helped them and their families navigate the complexities of special education. Photo by Maddie Myer / The Seattle Times.

Hodan Mohammed, center, of Open Doors for Multicultural Families, joins Fadil Abubakar, 19, left, and Rahma Ali, 18, for a photo at NewHolly Youth and Family Center in June. Mohammed helped them and their families navigate the complexities of special education. Photo by Maddie Myer / The Seattle Times.

More than year after the state ordered Seattle Public Schools to fix its long-troubled special-education program, progress has been incremental at best and falls far short of the district’s own promises.

When national consultants visited Seattle during the spring, they found a bureaucracy still so disjointed that few know who is responsible for what.

They heard, for example, four different versions of how the district is supposed to handle parent complaints about special education.

The data systems are such a mess that nobody could tell them how many of the district’s 7,200 special-education students — with disabilities such as autism, deafness and dyslexia — were in school on any given day.

Go here to read the full story.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Seattle Public Schools, special ed

September 2, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Court hears arguments in McCleary school-funding case; watch coverage replay

Update 3:25 p.m.: The state Supreme Court turned the Temple of Justice into the proverbial woodshed Wednesday afternoon, demanding that state lawmakers explain why they shouldn’t be held in contempt for failing in the last session to come up with a complete plan to fully fund public education by 2018.

“It’s been said that insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” Justice Charles Wiggins said to the attorney representing the state. “Why should we think that you’re going to do something different?”

The unusual hearing was the latest clash between the Legislature and the high court arising out of the court’s landmark 2012 McCleary decision declaring Washington’s school funding system unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Thomas Ahearne, has argued that the Supreme Court risks becoming an irrelevant branch of government if it fails to hold the Legislature accountable for failing to carry out the court’s order to submit the funding plan by April — or at least the end of 2014.


Comments | More in News, Your voices | Topics: live chat, McCleary

August 27, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Child care costs in King County among highest in nation

Child care costs in King County are among the highest in the nation, but it’s not because child care providers are making out like bandits, according to a report issued today by Puget Sound Sage, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income families.

One example of how high costs are here: A single mother making $33,500 a year, the median income in King County, makes too much money for a subsidy. But she would have to spend 52 percent of her salary to cover the market rate for one infant at a child care center, according to the report, authored by Nicole Vallestero Keenan, policy director for Puget Sound Sage.

Graphic courtesy Puget Sound Sage

Graphic courtesy Puget Sound Sage


Comments | More in News | Topics: Child care, early ed, preschool

August 22, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Seattle ‘maker party’ promotes Internet literacy, carrots included

Anyone who’s ever wanted to get their feet wet making something for the web instead of just surfing it should join the “maker party” Friday evening at the Seattle Central Library.

The two-day party, which started Thursday, is free and open to anyone 12 and older who would like to tinker with programming languages such as Python, JavaScript and Ruby on Rails, work with volunteer mentors on a web project, or even build a robot.

Scene from a previous Mozilla Makers party. Photo courtesy Mozilla.

Scene from a previous Mozilla Makers party. Photo courtesy Mozilla.

It’s one of several hands-on opportunities in the Seattle area to become a producer of digital culture rather than just a consumer.

“Maker Party Pop-Up Seattle” is part of an annual 60-day cycle of volunteer-run events in hundreds of cities around the world.  They are all organized by Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, to promote web literacy.

One of the local party hosts is the Seattle branch of Geek Girls Carrots, an international organization that brings together communities of girls and women interested in computer technology and professionals already in the field.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: coding, Computer technology, STEM

Next Page »