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Education Lab Blog

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

Category: Opinion
September 25, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Guest: New graduation rules will help all parents get more involved

mariaestrada

Maria Estrada

Parent engagement is key to helping students make good decisions about their future and successfully achieve their dreams, particularly during students’ high school experiences.

But for me, parent engagement isn’t just about what I can do for my daughter. It’s also about what I can do to benefit all children.

My daughter Paulina and I moved to Washington from Mexico a few years ago. The language barrier made it difficult for me to understand how the school system worked or what classes my daughter was enrolled in.

Parents need to be engaged, but they also need accessible information about their child’s education. From personal experience, I can tell you that remaining engaged in your child’s education isn’t possible when you’re struggling to understand complex, bureaucratic information in a foreign language.

As a result, while in high school, Paulina took Algebra 1 four times, despite earning good grades and passing the class each time she was enrolled. This fall, Paulina must enroll in remedial math classes at a community college to learn the math she didn’t learn in high school before she can apply to a four-year institution.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion, Your voices | Topics: graduation requirements, parent engagement

September 20, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Guest: What early research can teach us about the merits of pre-K

daleharran

Dale C. Farran

As cities like Seattle consider substantially expanding their public preschool programs, officials have turned to scientific research to help steer the decision-making process. But it’s important to remember that evidence for positive effects of pre-kindergarten comes primarily from studies of preschools that may not be very applicable to large-scale programs today.

One highly referenced study of preschool effectiveness, the Abecedarian Project, enrolled four cohorts of 14 infants from low-income homes between 1972 and 1977. The intervention began when infants were 6 weeks of age and lasted through age 5, when the children began kindergarten. I was part of the research team from 1974 until 1984.

The concerns of the 1970s are not those of today. Care for infants in groups was rare, and possible health problems were a major concern. As a consequence, Abecedarian infant and toddler classrooms were on the same floor as two pediatricians and a nurse practitioner who provided care to the participants. Interestingly, a recent Science magazine article presented long health benefits into adulthood for those who had participated in Abecedarian.

Another aspect that makes scaling Abecedarian difficult is that it operated nine hours a day, 12 months a year, and provided extensive services to the children and families involved. No programs being proposed today can match this level of intensity.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Abecedarian, early education, prek

September 15, 2014 at 4:08 PM

Guest: Project-based classrooms help kids become active learners

Michael Golden

Michael Golden

With the new school year under way, a major initiative related to class size on the ballot in November, and an unrelenting race-based achievement gap across the country, how we educate our children and prepare them for the world is under the microscope. It should be a wake-up call that we continue to fall behind other countries in educational outcomes. The world is changing at a remarkable pace, yet how we educate our youth remains largely the same.

Kids today live in a world that engulfs them in stimuli, changing the way their brains process information and how they learn. What might have worked in the classroom 20 years ago does not work today, but it is still widely used.

To engage today’s students, lessons have to be truly meaningful to them. One effective approach is the use of project-based learning.

What does project-based learning look like? It could be a language arts teacher facilitating a student-initiated project to write a screenplay about a local female rapper. The students would need to learn the mechanical structure of a screenplay, research the nature of the music industry, identify a handful of venues where rappers perform and who some of her fellow musicians might be. Their teacher would guide them through the project and connect them with experts such as screenwriters and music-industry executives in Hollywood.

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September 3, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Guest: How to set up evaluations that help teachers improve

Rosaline Zhang

Rosaline Zhang

In March, Washington state lawmakers ended the legislative session without passing a bill to incorporate student test scores in teacher-principal evaluation systems. As a result, Washington became the first state to lose its No Child Left Behind waiver, along with control of $40 million in federal funding. The U.S. Department of Education requires states that have received waivers to use statewide standardized tests as a factor in evaluations.

Legislators need to move past the debate on whether to use testing data in evaluations. The failure to pass the bill puts Washington’s evaluation system behind the rest of the country. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia Public Schools have already changed their laws to require that measures of student achievement be a significant or the most significant factor in teacher evaluations. The new generation of evaluations is here to stay.

Critics can argue over what measures of student achievement are the most accurate, or how much these measures should factor into evaluation ratings. But these arguments miss the bigger picture: When executed properly, evaluations can help guide teachers’ professional development. Only after Washington state law is changed can lawmakers and district leaders begin focusing on what will really make a difference for our teachers and students: evaluations that help teachers get better.

So what is the key to maximizing an evaluation system’s potential to help teachers improve their craft? Important lessons can be drawn from early adopters of the new generation of evaluation systems. In the 2012-2013 academic year, an urban school district serving Houston piloted a system that incorporated both classroom observations and student learning measures.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Rosaline Zhang, teacher evaluations

August 30, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Guest: Special-ed programs fail to meet needs of immigrant families

Ginger Kwan

Ginger Kwan

Research has demonstrated that meaningful family engagement leads to better student performance, and yet our local schools still struggle to engage families from racially, ethnically and culturally diverse communities, particularly when it comes to parents who have limited English proficiency or have children in special education programs.

As a result, many special-needs students from these diverse backgrounds end up getting left behind as their peers advance.

At many school districts in King County, more than 50 percent of students speak a language other than English at home. Serving and communicating with parents who have limited English proficiency should not be a new thing for schools. And yet, many parents are left wondering why it is so difficult for schools to engage diverse families of children with special needs. Is it because the schools lack knowledge of the best family engagement practices? Or because schools do not value special-needs students from other cultures? Or are schools simply unwilling to make needed changes to correct their own cultural bias and the institutional racism against this target population?

The answers are multi-faceted and not easy to answer. The challenges from schools to engage these diverse families are no less than what these families encounter when trying to interact with schools.

Across the system, schools generally lack the language and cultural capacity to engage these families meaningfully. School-hired interpreters are often not trained properly, are not familiar with special education, or speak different dialects than the family. Some families are also told to bring their own interpreters or have their children to interpret for them. In addition to verbal communication challenges, written information has been primarily printed in English or posted on school websites only. All of these obstacles can prevent meaningful communication between families and schools.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Ginger Kwan, Open Doors, special education

August 28, 2014 at 4:37 PM

Guest: Educators must do more to reach young men of color

Amy Saxton

Amy Saxton

It’s my first time at the New Schools Venture Fund conference, and I’m excited to exchange ideas with entrepreneurs, educators and policymakers. The day will be brimming with innovative approaches to transforming public education for underserved students. But what strikes me first is that, for once, my reflexive search of the room for brown and black faces comes up full.

The conference won’t necessarily be better or worse, the discussions more or less fruitful, but that simple moment of recognition, the feeling of an invisible but meaningful weight lifted off of my shoulders — that I don’t have to represent, and I can, just a little more than usual, simply be— gives me a powerful moment of connection with a subject never far from our minds at Summer Search: reaching and serving more young men of color.

Despite our best efforts, Summer Search, a national non-profit focused on creating opportunity for low-income and underserved students, has enrolled only three males of color out of every 10 students. Over the last two years, we have focused on recruiting and retaining more of these young men through pilot programs and innovative strategies, but it remains an uphill battle.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Amy Saxton, Summer Search

August 8, 2014 at 3:29 PM

Guest: 7 ways to help kids with summer reading

The Shaw Island library has a cozy reading section for children. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2012.

The Shaw Island library has a cozy reading section for children. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2012.

Summer is a perfect time to start a new habit in your home: reading together. Here are a few simple tips that can help parents support their young readers as they are learning, and then practicing, how to read. It is never too young to start. Even toddlers can benefit from these ideas.

1. Let them shine

Watch eyes light up when she or he corrects you! Pretend to not know a word. Mispronounce a word. Look to the child for the answer.

2. Take turns.

Take turns reading pages. “I will read one page to you, then you read one to me!” Books like Mo Willems’ “Elephant and Piggie” series are great to get started with.

3. Point to words

Point to the words as you read to your child. Use your finger to help the child keep pace. This can even help toddlers learn basic words. As she or he is sounding out a word, use two fingers to keep the child’s eye on the part of the word being pronounced.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: reading, summer learning loss

July 30, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Guests: The critical role of doctors in early learning

Jill Sells

Jill Sells

Mary Ann Woodruff

Mary Ann Woodruff

Equal opportunity is at the heart of many civic discussions, from preschool to the minimum wage. Rarely is it emphasized that a child’s chance to reach his or her potential is greatly impacted by what happens before he or she utters a word.

The stark reality is that inequities related to both economics and race are present in infants. Brain and economic research unequivocally demonstrate that the earliest experiences matter the most.

As pediatricians, we’ve shared the joy as families welcome newborns into their lives. We’ve helped them understand that babies are wired to learn, innately attracted to their parents’ voices and faces, and actively engaged with the people around them.

The latest University of Washington study from Patricia Kuhl at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) demonstrates that “babies practice speech long before they can talk.” Helping parents support their child’s learning from birth should be among the highest of our priorities as pediatricians. Children’s doctors are trusted by families and are uniquely able to support parents through each stage of their child’s development.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: early learning

July 24, 2014 at 3:33 PM

Guest: Teachers need more than one formula for student success

Andrew E. Kelly

Andrew E. Kelly

The battle around “what works” in education continues to rage nationally and in our great state. What is the best way to ensure that each of our kids, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and personal background are able to successfully meet our educational standards and move through elementary, middle and high school to graduate prepared for college and a career?

One argument centers on whether schools should use direct instruction, a teacher-centered approach that commonly uses call-and-response, or a more free-flowing structure where students talk out their thinking and make sense of what they already know to build the scaffolding for their future.

Yet, as I work to support our state’s lowest-performing schools through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, I see more similarities than differences when it comes to what goes on in the classroom. Across the state, schools are succeeding with kids using both explicit instruction and constructivist learning. The bottom line: Great teaching is great teaching

Lakeridge Elementary School within the Renton School District is one school in our state experiencing phenomenal results. After receiving a federal school improvement grant three years ago, Lakeridge has taken on a new approach that emphasizes not just teaching content but, just as importantly, teaching kids how to think.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Andy Kelly, direct instruction, Lakeridge

July 16, 2014 at 2:59 PM

Your voices: Students talk about experiences with for-profit colleges

Ashley Kyle of Everett said she found her pharmacy-tech teacher lacking and taught herself. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times.

Ashley Kyle of Everett said she found her pharmacy-tech teacher lacking and taught herself. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times.

Corrected version

Education Lab recently asked readers to share their experiences — positive or negative — with for-profit colleges and universities.

The request was tied to news that Corinthian Colleges, which operates a handful of Washington schools under the name Everest College, was under investigation from the U.S. Department of Education.

Since then, the two parties have reached an agreement that calls for Corinthian to put 85 of its campuses, including schools in Everett, Seattle, Bremerton, Tacoma, Renton and Vancouver, up for sale.

Several current and former students wrote to us saying Everest had misrepresented their chances of finding a job after graduation. One Everest student, Ashley Kyle, wrote in to say the school did little to help her prepare for the national pharmacy-technician exam. “They took advantage of me being really naive,” said Kyle, who will be paying $300 a month in student loans for the next 10 years.

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Comments | More in Opinion, Your voices | Topics: for-profit colleges, higher ed

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