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Education Lab Blog

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

Category: Guest opinion
January 24, 2015 at 6:05 PM

Guest: Six common myths about student discipline

Sarah Yatsko

Sarah Yatsko

The rate of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions has doubled since the early 1970s, even as rates for juvenile crime and violence in schools have both sharply declined.

In 2013, Washington state improved the laws that govern suspensions and expulsions. In recent weeks, The Seattle Times has highlighted how some school systems are rethinking discipline policies. These are hopeful signs, but some pervasive and persistent myths prevent our education system from truly facing up to the overuse of what should be a tool of last resort.

Myth 1: It’s rare that a child is suspended or expelled.

Last year, Washington schools levied more than 68,000 suspensions and expulsions, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Rates peaked at the end of middle school, with nearly one out of every 10 eighth graders suspended or expelled. One out of every 65 all-day kindergarteners was also excluded from school for behavior.

Myth 2: Most students are suspended or expelled because they’re dangerous.

Aside from fights — which made up 15 percent of suspensions and expulsions — only 7 percent of all reported suspensions and expulsions in Washington in 2013 and 2014 were for violence, according to OSPI data. More than half of all suspensions and expulsions fall in the discretionary “other behavior” category, which does not include alcohol, bullying, drugs, fighting or violence.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Center on Reinventing Public Education, discipline, Sarah Yatsko

January 24, 2015 at 6:00 PM

Guest: Restorative justice well worth educators’ time and effort

Loren Demeroutis

Loren Demeroutis

Visiting educators and community members are a common sight at Big Picture School in the Highline School District, where I serve as principal. These visitors are interested in thinking differently about public schools, and they often ask about our use of a discipline approach called restorative justice — how it works, if it is worth the resources, and if it appears scalable to larger schools or districts.

My short answer to all of the above: Absolutely.

About five years ago, an 11th-grade student named Laura Jimenez Guerra introduced me to restorative justice and proposed giving suspended students the option of reducing their time out of school by meeting with a panel of community members to address the harm caused by their actions. At multiple times during the process, we remind students the entire ordeal is optional and depends upon their willingness to participate actively and own their actions.

The ensuing conference brings the student together with one or two of the identified allies and community members representing different types of harm resulting from the student’s choices. With the support of these individuals, the student goes through three steps:

  • identifying his or her thinking leading up to, through, and after the event(s)
  • understanding and validating the harm or potential harm caused by the student’s choices
  • generating ways to address and restore the harm.
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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Big Picture, discipline, Highline School District

January 21, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Guest: Schools play key role in helping kids overcome addiction

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Amy Frierson

No one chooses to be an addict.

Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a chronic, progressive, family disease — meaning it’s incurable but treatable. The longer it’s left untreated, the worse it becomes for not only the addict and his or her loved ones, but for the entire community as well.

In America, an estimated 2.5 million young people are illicit drug users.

The earlier someone uses drugs or alcohol, the more likely he or she is to become an addict. Young people are also more vulnerable because parts of their brains are still developing. There is a dangerously fine line between experimentation, where someone can stop using, and addiction, where he or she no longer has that choice.

Here’s the good news: With treatment including a continuing care component, chances for maintaining sobriety improve and people are more likely to avoid devastating lifelong effects that come with addiction.

What can we as a community do to help young people facing addiction? Here are two, relatively simple ways we can help them begin the road to recovery. Our schools play a crucial role in both approaches.

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January 15, 2015 at 6:39 PM

Guest: It’s time to get serious about keeping effective teachers

Nathan Gibbs-Bowling

Nathan Gibbs-Bowling

Two of the best humanities teachers I know left my district 18 months ago to teach abroad in Dubai, and now they are preparing to renew their contracts for two more years. After 10 years of teaching math, one of the best math teachers I know is seeking a teacher leadership post in another state.

Another one of my colleagues, a science teacher, recently told me about feeling exhausted and the need to leave the classroom in favor of a job in industry.

We have a looming teacher-retention crisis in Washington state and the most likely teachers to leave the career are often among our best, most impactful.

No one feels these losses more acutely than families living in poverty, for whom education is a way to the middle class. A great teacher is a powerful leader on that path.

Despite the talent drain, the public school system remains ill-prepared to attract and retain the excellent teachers that our students need, especially in high-poverty schools where turnover is even higher.

Great teachers have the ability to generate an additional five to six months of student learning in a year. A critical mass of great teachers in a building can be enough persuasion for other strong teachers to stay in the profession.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, teacher retention, Teachers United

December 31, 2014 at 12:26 PM

Guest: New math textbooks are the right choice for Seattle schools

Ted Nutting

Ted Nutting

Earlier this year, the Seattle School Board changed the kind of math textbooks used in our elementary schools, selecting texts intended to be used with explicit instruction. Under explicit instruction, teachers are expected to actually teach rather than turn students loose to discover mathematics principles on their own. The board picked the Math in Focus series, a version of Singapore Math.

Seattle Public Schools began using reform math textbooks in the 1990s. In that approach, students are supposed to learn by discovering mathematical truth in the process of solving problems. They typically work in groups, noting their thoughts in journals and portfolios, and using calculators constantly as they complete discovery-type projects. Advocates have touted reform math as a way to get kids excited about math and create a culture of learning.

Unfortunately, this approach was based on an unrealistic vision rather than on fact. It has been a failure both in Seattle and in the U.S. as a whole; our math students have fared poorly in comparison with those of other developed countries. On the most recent international math test, the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. finished 36th of the 65 countries participating, behind virtually all other developed countries. Earlier tests showed similar results.

During the last seven years, my students at Ballard High School consistently performed better than their peers at other public Seattle high schools on Advanced Placement Calculus exams. Since 2011, when state end-of-course tests were established, I have taught only one class that has a state test and is required for graduation — Algebra 1, our school’s lowest-level math class, in the 2011-12 school year. My students earned the highest passage rate in the district on that test.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: explicit instruction, math, Seattle Public Schools

December 22, 2014 at 6:05 PM

Guest: We can do better for students with special needs

Ramona Hattendorf

Ramona Hattendorf

Special education in Washington is a mess. For families, it can be adversarial and emotionally draining. For students, it can be isolating, even traumatizing. We need to create equal opportunities to learn.

For those in the field, that can be hard to hear, and certainly we have some phenomenal staff members working with children with disabilities. Still, conflicts with special education are the most common calls to the state’s Office of the Education Ombuds, by far. And many problems with discipline and bullying loop back to it.

Parents struggle with delays or denial of interventions and accommodations. Children struggle with segregation and a sense of failure that erode their emotional health.

All this was captured in a recent report to the Legislature calling for a commission to usher in change. But what got lost in translation was the proposed solution.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: special education

November 30, 2014 at 11:00 PM

Guest: Why diversity matters in tech and engineering

Susannah Malarkey

Susannah Malarkey

Diversity in our technology and engineering workforce is a hot topic, and with good reason. Washington has the highest concentration of science, tech, engineering and math (STEM)-related jobs in the country, but the lack of women and people of color in this sector is glaringly obvious.

It isn’t enough to simply complain. We must tackle the root causes of this issue, not only for the good of individuals who will find livelihoods in this sector, but for our innovation-based industries as well.

Pursuing a career in STEM is a smart move for many students. These professions offer above-average pay and a range of fulfilling job opportunities. So why isn’t there more diversity? According to a study by the U.S. Census Department last year, African Americans hold only 6 percent of the jobs in these fields, and Hispanics only 7 percent — numbers far below their representation in the overall workforce. Women hold only 26 percent of these jobs.

In order to grow our technical workforce, the talent pool from which STEM companies find their employees must grow much more diverse. As someone who works with leaders in the tech industry, I can report that CEOs believe that diversifying their workforces is not only the right thing to do, it is also seen as a business imperative.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion, Your voices | Topics: higher ed, STEM, Technology Alliance

November 26, 2014 at 11:52 AM

Guest: How the Legislature can help empower teachers

Mike Lundin

Mike Lundin

The most volatile period of my 35-year career in education is happening now. Across the country, teachers have begun to react to downgrades in their status, credibility and authority.

According to a 2014 report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, the annual attrition rate of first-year teachers has risen by 40 percent over the last two decades, and 40 to 50 percent now leave the teaching profession within five years. Every year, 13 percent of teachers abandon the profession or migrate to more appealing schools, often leaving the disadvantaged more so.

The Washington state Legislature, charged with scrounging billions of dollars in additional funding to improve education and comply with the McCleary decision, must take the lead in funding effective training programs for our state’s teachers and give them the opportunity to collaborate and support each other.

In Washington and elsewhere, the insidious loss of professional power among American educators is eroding our quality of education. Many schools find it difficult to hire teachers in some subjects, such as mathematics, but only half the math and science teachers in disadvantaged schools have a degree and a license in their fields. Locally, we have seen teaching veterans bail, as outside meddling displaces learning. Not surprisingly, “highly qualified” means less when comparing our teachers across cultures or across nations.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: education funding, teacher training

November 5, 2014 at 10:57 AM

Guests: Seattle schools need formal policy on recess time

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Dayna Provitt

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Jana Robbins

Seattle parents, do you know how much recess time your children get each day?

In many schools, students return after summer break to learn that recess has been further reduced. Who is most impacted? According to a recent KUOW investigation, schools with the shortest recess times have more low-income students and students of color.  KUOW also reported that in the past four years, schools with 20 minutes or less recess time per day have increased from just one school to 11 schools in the Seattle district.

Recess is a valuable and essential learning time for children. Research has proven what we’ve also known for years: Children need recess to develop social skills, hone problem-solving skills, explore their own ideas, recharge their minds after periods of structured activity, and simply exercise.

Furthermore, research has shown that adequate recess time actually improves student behavior and academic goals. Children who have recess are better able to manage their behavior and focus on learning in the classroom.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Your voices | Topics: guest opinion, recess, Seattle Public Schools

October 27, 2014 at 2:17 PM

Guest: When speaking to infants, aim for quality over quantity

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy Cutchlow

Corrected version

Here’s one thing you can do to jumpstart your child’s literacy skills, whether or not Seattle voters approve one of the two early learning measures on the November ballot.

One of the most important ways you can interact with your infant is simple: Talk. A lot. If you do, you greatly increase your baby’s future language skills. That includes vocabulary, rate of vocabulary growth, listening, speaking, semantics, syntax and, later, reading comprehension. The amount of talk that gets these results, according to a landmark study? Two-thousand, one hundred words per hour.

That number freaked me out. So I dug into the research as I wrote my new book, “Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science.” Here’s the story:

Betty Hart tried everything she could think of to improve the vocabularies of the 4-year-olds in the low-income preschool where she was teaching. She couldn’t do it. Finally, she and Todd Risley, her graduate supervisor at the University of Kansas, figured out that, by age 4, it was too late.

They wanted to know why.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: early education, Tracy Cutchlow

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