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

Topic: Seattle Public Schools

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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.


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

December 31, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Some education news to watch for in the upcoming year

As the final days of 2014 tick by, here are five of the education stories we plan to keep an eye on in 2015:

From left, Kelsey McCleary, 20, mother and plaintiff Stephanie McCleary, and son Carter McCleary, 15. Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times.

From left, Kelsey McCleary, 20, mother and plaintiff Stephanie McCleary, and son Carter McCleary, 15. Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times.

1. More money for schools

Lawmakers in Olympia will wrestle this session with how to meet a court order to give more state dollars to public schools and pay for a sweeping class size initiative that voters approved in the November election. Some lawmakers say they’re ready to send Initiative 1351 back to voters with a price tag and a proposal for how to pay for it.

But lawmakers will have a tough time dodging the state Supreme Court’s unanimous September decision to hold the Legislature in contempt for failing to ramp up public school spending quickly enough, which the court ordered back in 2012. The court gave lawmakers until the day after the session to come up with a plan to increase school spending to the required levels or convince justices they shouldn’t issue sanctions.


Comments | More in News | Topics: 2015, Initiative 1351, Larry Nyland

December 19, 2014 at 12:55 PM

Former Federal Reserve building may yet end up as a public school

A few weeks ago, the Seattle School Board declined the chance to get the former Federal Reserve branch in downtown Seattle for free in exchange for turning it into an elementary school.

Board members were uncomfortable with some of the terms — especially the fact that accepting it from the feds would have come with a mandate to turn the hulking structure into an elementary school within three years or face fines. District staff estimated that project would cost between $50 million and $53 million, and board members didn’t want to commit the district to that price before they asked voters to support it.

But a meeting this week made it clear they haven’t given up on turning the building into an elementary school.


Comments | Topics: Downtown school, Federal Reserve, Seattle Public Schools

December 12, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Tell us: What should top Nyland’s to-do list for Seattle schools?

Larry Nyland

Larry Nyland

If there’s one thing Larry Nyland has, it’s experience.

The new leader of Seattle Public Schools, offered the permanent job on Wednesday, started his first superintendency in 1982, in Pasco. He’s also held administrative positions in Alaska, Shoreline and Highline, before becoming Marysville superintendent in 2004.

Seattle School Board member Sharon Peaslee said Nyland’s ability to lead districts through tough times is one of the key reasons she recommended the board extend his contract through June 2017. The motion was approved with a 5-2 vote on Wednesday.


Comments | More in News, Your voices | Topics: Larry Nyland, Seattle Public Schools, your voices

December 10, 2014 at 5:52 PM

Larry Nyland approved as new leader of Seattle Public Schools

Principal Aida Fraser-Hammer, left, and interim Seattle schools Superintendent Larry Nyland talk with Delfino Muno, of Proyecto Saber, a Latino education and cultural support program, at Chief Sealth International High School in West Seattle last week. Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times.

Larry Nyland, right, speaks with administrators at Chief Sealth International High School in West Seattle last week. Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times.

Editor’s note: Go here for an updated version of this story.

Larry Nyland became the latest schools chief to take the reins of Seattle’s school district Wednesday, following a 5-2 vote of the Seattle School Board at a special meeting.

Nyland, a Seattle native who ran school districts in Marysville and Pasco before retiring in 2013, has led the district since August as an interim replacement for former Superintendent José Banda. Banda left Seattle to take a job with the Sacramento Unified School District.

The Seattle School Board initially thought it would do a national search for a new leader, but changed course in late November. The day before Thanksgiving, Board President Sharon Peaslee placed a motion on the board’s agenda for the following week that recommended hiring Nyland permanently.

Peaslee and other board members have said they think Nyland’s background of righting districts in turmoil makes him a good fit for Seattle.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Larry Nyland, Seattle Public Schools

December 10, 2014 at 1:56 PM

Seattle’s special education leader resigns after months of leave

Seattle Public Schools’ executive director for special education, who has been on paid leave since early August, has resigned for personal reasons, district officials announced Wednesday.

Zakiyyah McWilliams was placed on administrative leave in August amid a district investigation into the hiring of a special education consultant this past spring. Though a spokeswoman at the time said the review would take a few weeks, the district granted McWilliams medical leave on Sept. 10, effectively extending her absence. Spokeswoman Stacy Howard said Wednesday the district’s investigation into the consultant process is now complete, but the district has yet to provide any details.

Wyeth Jessee, who has been heading the district’s special education division in McWilliams’ absence, will take over the department full-time, the district said in a letter to parents. He will become the ninth person to hold the district’s top special education job in 10 years.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Larry Nyland, Seattle Public Schools, special education

December 10, 2014 at 11:56 AM

Planned Queen Anne recovery school sparks support, opposition

Although Seattle Public Schools officials say their decision is final, the district will still hold a public meeting Wednesday night on placing a program for high-school students who are recovering from alcohol or drug abuse next door to a Queen Anne elementary school.

The program, called the Interagency Recovery School, is scheduled to open in February in a building that was once the gymnasium in the former Queen Anne High School, located across the street from the back side of John Hay Elementary.

That proximity has some parents worried about possible gang influences and violence in the neighborhood.

“We would support this type of program, even (in) Queen Anne, but just not 25 feet away from an elementary school,” said Christina Economou, parent of a first grader at John Hay.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Interagency Recovery School, Seattle Public Schools

December 3, 2014 at 3:48 PM

Seattle School Board to consider one-year extension for schools chief

Two Seattle School Board members today announced that they would like to extend interim Superintendent Larry Nyland’s contract by one year instead of two.

Board President Sharon Peaslee previously suggested forgoing a search to replace former Superintendent Jose Banda, and simply extend Nyland’s contract at least through June 2017. That idea has been criticized by some parents and activists who objected to the fact that Peaslee’s proposal, made public the day before Thanksgiving, didn’t give the public enough time to weigh in.

Peaslee first proposed a vote for Wednesday’s board meeting, but then delayed it for a week — until Dec. 10 — to allow more public comment.

Now the board will discuss that proposal, as well as an amendment filed Wednesday by board members Sue Peters and Betty Patu. Even with the delay, they said Peaslee’s proposal does not fulfill the intent of the board’s policies on community engagement, which call for meaningful family involvement and transparent communication. They say their amendment is a compromise that would give the district stable leadership as well as a chance for more public input.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Larry Nyland, Seattle Public Schools, Superintendent

December 3, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Report: How fast teacher pay rises is as important as top salary

Corrected version

When and how teachers receive raises can be just as important as how much they are paid at the start and end of their careers, according to a new report on teacher pay from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Paying teachers more, sooner, adds up to greater earnings over their lifetimes and can keep good teachers from leaving the profession for more lucrative careers, the report states.

The report used 2013-14 salary data to study more than 100 of the country’s largest school districts, including two in Washington (Seattle and Spokane) and looked at what teachers make, how long it takes for them to make it and what it buys them.

The average U.S. teacher works for 24 years before reaching a salary of $75,000, which is roughly the maximum salary a teacher earns over a 30-year career.

In Seattle, a teacher will make that much after 11 years, according to the report. In Spokane, it will take a teacher more than 30 years to reach the $75,000 mark.


Comments | More in News | Topics: National Council on Teacher Quality, Seattle Public Schools, teacher pay

December 1, 2014 at 6:57 PM

Seattle School Board delays superintendent vote

The Seattle School Board announced Monday that it will delay a vote on whether to appoint interim schools chief Larry Nyland as full superintendent, saying it wants to allow the public time to weigh in. The board’s president, Sharon Peaslee, had previously scheduled a vote for Wednesday on whether to give Nyland the job, catching…


Comments | More in News | Topics: Larry Nyland, Seattle Public Schools

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